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August 10 2012

14:56

Viewfinder: Video journalism that works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three areas: planning, execution and assembly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 01 2012

12:04

Murdoch's tablet The Daily lays off nearly a third of its staff

Guardian :: The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's tablet newspaper, has laid off close to a third of its staff just 18 months after its glitzy launch. Executives at the News Corp-owned title told its 170 employees on Tuesday that 50 of them would be let go.

A report by Dominic Rushe, www.guardian.co.uk

January 11 2012

21:43

Ahead of time: Did The Daily launch too early?

The Wrap :: News Corp.’s The Daily may have launched a year too early, but the company's perfectly okay with that. Speaking on a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday, David Brinker, The Daily’s Senior VP of Business Development and Operations, noted that News Corp.’s iPad newspaper is coming up on its one-year anniversary Feb. 2.

An inventory.

Continue to read Lucas Shaw, www.thewrap.com

July 29 2011

14:00

This Week in Review: Design and the Times, Google+ growing pains, and the extinction of the mogul

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Debating the Times’ paywall and design: In its quarterly earnings call late last week, the New York Times gave the clearest picture yet of how its new online pay plan is working. As usual, it turned out to be something of a Rorschach test: BNET’s Erik Sherman called the numbers evidence that the paywall isn’t protecting the Times’ print subscriptions, as it was intended to. On the other hand, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum argued that the Times’ big digital subscription figure (224,000) “proves that, contra the naysayers, readers will pay good money for quality news.” The Times’ paywall adds an important digital revenue stream, he said, while also letting in enough casual readers to keep the value of digital advertising up.

The most thorough defense of the Times, though, came from New York magazine’s Seth Mnookin: “The Times has taken a do-or-die stand for hard-core, boots-on-the-ground journalism, for earnest civic purpose, for the primacy of content creators over aggregators, and has brought itself back from the precipice.” BNET’s Jim Edwards said it’s premature for Mnookin to say the Times is back, but Reuters’ Felix Salmon, a former Times paywall skeptic, agreed with Mnookin that the paywall is working, saying he’s glad the Times has shown a porous paywall can work.

The other Times-related item is firmly in the hypothetical realm, but it generated at least as much conversation as the real-world pay plan. Last week, web designer Andy Rutledge critiqued the Times’ online design and proposed his own version, emphasizing headlines, timestamps, authors, and separating news from opinion.

The response wasn’t particularly positive. The redesign was generally trashed on Twitter, with a typical sentiment expressed by 10,000 Words’ Lauren Rabaino: “It’s hard to take seriously a design that completely ignores the constraints of a typical newspaper.” One of the most comprehensive responses came from Guardian developer Martin Belam, who pointed out things like faces, article summaries, and points of social connection that Rutledge was missing.

The Lab’s Joshua Benton argued that Rutledge’s redesign doesn’t acknowledge that “the problems of large-scale information architecture for news sites are really hard problems.” Meanwhile, Belgian developer Stijn Debrouwere went the other direction, asking for more unrealistic mockups like this one to help us brainstorm what news sites could look like. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said the problem with the Times’ site is that it’s designed as if readers are interested in everything the paper produces, which is almost never the case. And Paul Scrivens said both Rutledge and the Times should look outside the news industry for design cues.

The Google+ lockout: Google+ continues to grow at a ridiculous pace — far faster than either Facebook or Twitter, as Idealab’s Bill Gross pointed out — and as Simon Dumenco of Ad Age argued, the platform represents a social media do-over for a lot of users. It’s still generating dissent, though, with much of it stemming from Google+’s policy toward business pages. As Google’s Christian Oestlien wrote late last week, the company is working on a business profile template that will be up in the next few months, but they’re deleting business pages (including news organization pages) in the meantime.

A few companies will get trial pages before they’re available to everyone, and others have found workarounds — the tech blog Mashable managed to keep all its followers by simply changing its page name to the name of its CEO, Pete Cashmore. That got other members of the tech press worked up, including Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, who urged Google to restore the deleted pages and let businesses create pages normally. TechCrunch’s MG Siegler said Google is essentially creating its own version of Twitter’s Suggested User List, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM made the case for why this is a big deal.

Elsewhere in the world of Google+, Mathew Ingram wrote about the issues it’s dealing with regarding anonymity, and The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal is experimenting with a daily news roundup on his personal page there. The Next Web’s Martin Bryant examined Google+’s usefulness as a news tool, concluding that while it has potential, it needs a bigger, broader user base to start to really challenge Twitter and Facebook.

The last media mogul?: The News Corp. phone hacking scandal shifted down a gear this week, but there were still a few developments to report. The News of the World hacking victims also reportedly included the mother of an 8-year-old murder victim, and two former employees testified that they had told James Murdoch that the hacking was widespread, contradicting what Murdoch had told Parliament last week. Other News Corp. veterans challenged the picture Rupert Murdoch painted of himself as a largely hands-off newspaper boss.

The New York Times’ David Carr wrote that James Murdoch is done, and that Rupert has finally been revealed as vulnerable. CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis was more emphatic, calling Murdoch the last media mogul: “The mogul is extinct. The kind of big media institution he built will follow him. Lovely chaos will follow. It’s called democracy.” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple took a quick look at what a post-Murdoch world might look like.

A couple of other News Corp.-related avenues to chase down: Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review argued that a scandal like News of the World’s won’t happen in the U.S., and News Corp.’s newest property, the tablet publication The Daily, appears to be floundering, according to a New York Observer feature, though a new version was released last week.

Reading roundup: There wasn’t a whole lot to take in this week, but here’s a quick sampling:

— The FCC is releasing a series of studies on media ownership, one of the newest of which suggested that media cross-ownership (ownership of multiple media outlets within a single market) doesn’t hurt local news, and may actually help it.

— Wisconsin j-prof Stephen Ward made a thoughtful case for redefining objectivity in the digital age.

— Particularly for the Twitter skeptics and writing teachers out there, Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore put together a great post outlining the ways Twitter has made her a better writer.

— Finally, I’ve been trying to cover this piecemeal discussion here, but the AP’s Jonathan Stray did a much better job of summarizing the recent conversation about the changing structure of news stories with a fantastic reading list. Now that you’re done with this link-fest, be sure to give that one a look-through, too.

July 27 2011

07:17

The Remains of The Daily

The Obserer :: One News Corp. property that has flown under the radar throughout company’s recent melodramas is The Daily—the tablet newspaper launched to great fanfare in the basement of the Guggenheim in February. Nobody thinks the staff at the iPad app is doing any phone-hacking. They haven’t broken enough scoops to raise that kind of suspicion.

Now, with James under the spotlight and The Daily’s top patron, Rupert Murdoch, looking increasingly vulnerable, one wonders just what will become of the tablet paper, which has already cost News Corp. some $10 million without yet making a dent in the national conversation.

Kat Stoeffel asks: "With Murdochs in meltdown, why is no one talking about Rupert's iPad baby run by James's best man?"

Kat Stoeffel's Twitter account @kstoeffel

Continue to read Kat Stoeffel, www.observer.com

July 05 2011

18:06

Golf Digest Adds Interaction, Depth, E-Commerce to iPad App

It seemed like the first-delivered iPad was hardly unsheathed from its box before News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, apparently unfazed by a rich past of misguided forays into Internet ventures, announced the launch of The Daily, which was immediately labeled the first tablet-only newspaper.

And it was mere weeks -- if not days -- after its debut when media critics began declaring it a failure, often pointing to a sense of wandering malleability as The Daily's staff grappled with the dilemma of where a news app fits in a world of near-instantaneous news. Gawker readers guffawed at a leaked memo from editor in chief Jesse Angelo instructing his staff that they were to find, among other things, the "oldest dog in America, or the richest man in South Dakota." Hilarious comments like these reveal an oft-repeated lack of vision that nearly always plagues the first pioneers of a new medium.

In its early days, the radio industry remained a meandering platform thought to be utterly useless to advertisers and entertainers until Albert Lasker, considered by many the founder of modern advertising, discovered comedic actors like Bob Hope and used them to promote Palmolive soap, Pepsodent toothpaste, and Lucky Strike cigarettes to millions of listeners. With mobile and tablet apps, content producers must weigh their offerings in print and on the web and determine what more, if anything, they have to furnish on an app.

Despite such still-lingering questions, Conde Nast has thrown its hat into the ring, launching iPad apps for several magazine titles. It led with an app for the venerable New Yorker and a much-touted, widely praised one for Wired, and it began expanding into the app sphere even more when Apple launched magazine subscriptions on its tablet device.

golfdigestbutton.jpg

Though it's still too early to be considered a "veteran" of the mobile app, Golf Digest wasn't exactly a novice to the medium when it joined its sister publications with a new subscription offering. It had already been publishing a mobile phone app and, earlier this year, had spun off one of the magazine's annual features -- the Hot List -- into its own iPad app. The monthly iPad magazine subscription, Conde Nast announced, would be $1.99 per issue or $19.99 per year.

So how did Golf Digest determine what kind of content would be ideal for not only driving its print and web readers to the app, but new users as well?

The rule is to read the reader

Bob Carney, the magazine's brand editor, is someone who grappled with this question in the months leading up to the subscription's launch.

"For Golf Digest, I think at the very beginning we thought we'd add every kind of bell and whistle we can," he told me in a phone interview. "And we found out that not only is that costly, but really for someone coming to Golf Digest, what they want is more of what they get in the magazine. So for the magazine, instruction and service information about the equipment are the most important things, and the iPad app ought to take that and extend it, not go somewhere else."

Case in point: the publication's swing sequences. Flip through any issue and you're apt to come across them -- the arc of a golfer's swing spread out across several images. The digital editor's natural inclination is to dispel of the still images completely and upgrade to video, perhaps even making it embeddable for wider distribution. Carney and his team, when making the iPad app, opted for an even more granular level. Taking advantage of the tablet's high-resolution screen and interactive features, they designed the swing sequences so the user can control every facet of the swing, jumping forward and back, pausing at the moment of impact. By handing over this control to the user, Carney said, it allows him to learn at his own pace.

This isn't to say video doesn't have its place within the iPad. Sometimes, the magazine will take a swing sequence by, say, Adam Scott, whose swing Carney characterized as "beautiful," and then shoot video of other golfers offering audio commentary, analyzing the minute details of Scott's technique in a way that sheds light on the methodology of a truly superior golfer.

"What we learned is to not try to reinvent the wheel," Carney said. "You try to take what you have and move it to the next level so that the user gets more information and control and you're using all the audio, video, and other tools available. The web is nice, but the web is usually 'lean forward,' where somebody says, 'You should see the Adam Scott swing sequence,' and you have two minutes before your next call and you look at it and you think it's cool and a great swing and now you're back to work. When you're playing on the iPad and you have the time to listen to those guys and move that swing back and forth, it's a different experience, and it's very cool."

Like the web, an iPad app is devoid of the distribution costs that hinder print, allowing the editorial team to vastly expand on something that might take up only a few pages in the print magazine. But of course most of the stuff that ends up in the app must be directly correlated with that month's print issue, necessitating constant overlap between the print and digital teams as the magazine is put together. Carney estimated that it takes three weeks to compile the print issue and three weeks for the app, with a two-week overlap in between. "We have a wall where every page is put out, and I noticed recently they have a layout of the July issue for every iPad screen as well."

hotlistappss.jpg

Expanding the Hot List

Like other publications, Golf Digest is experimenting with rolling out individual apps and products centered around its annual lists. Its Hot List, a yearly ranking of the best golf equipment, was spun off into an iPad app before the magazine itself was even offered on the device.

Craig Bestrom, the magazine's editorial development director, told me in a phone interview that the app allowed his team to expand the list beyond the realms previously employed in the print product.

"The equipment portion of the magazine that was devoted to the Hot List was probably 60 pages," he said. "And this app had close to a thousand screens. That's probably the greatest comparison that you can make, that suddenly we're able to devote a lot more photographs and information. This is a far more comprehensive guide compared to what you get in the magazine. It's not only drivers, but all the new sets of irons, all the new wedges, all the new putters. It's all the club gear for 2011."

In the print version of the Hot List, for instance, the magazine featured about 14 drivers, and each driver was assigned a quarter of a page. But with the iPad app, Bestrom said, you get "multiple images of the driver, you get the sound the driver makes at impact, you have the ability to share on Facebook or on Twitter to your friends about a particular club or clubs that you liked and why you liked them."

The opportunity for e-commerce

The app allows for an e-commerce opportunity as well, enabling its designers to offer the clubs featured in the list up for sale with a simple click. Through a program called Golf Digest Rewards, a user is able to sort through the best prices for a club and purchase it via the app. Bestrom didn't have ready sales figures for me, but the e-commerce component indicated an opportunity for a diversification of revenue that may be necessary as print advertising revenues decline.

Ultimately, it seems the iPad app fits in between the stodgy formality of a print product and the open flexibility of the web. For Carney, it's the removal from the immediacy of the Internet that allows the magazine to flourish within this new medium.

"It works much more like a magazine, in that you really have to make it an experience in itself," he said.

And according to a recent survey, the consumers most coveted by high-end advertisers may agree. As Business Insider's Noah Davis put it, "The average user is roughly $60,000 richer and eight years younger than the typical Golf Digest reader, with an annual household income of $279,600."

Perhaps Golf Digest, the magazine for a sport thought to be played mainly by the affluent, is the perfect publication for a device often associated with that same demographic.

Simon Owens is the director of PR at JESS3, a design agency in Washington, D.C. You can read his blog or follow him on Twitter

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June 17 2011

21:48

Jesse Angelo: Folks, I'm happy to announce that Tom Lowry is joining The Daily

Huffington Post :: There’s been much discussion in the media world about the half-dozen or so departures at the publication since News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch first showed it off to reporters this past February. But The Daily made a big hire Friday, scooping up Variety’s Tom Lowry as the tablet publication’s new business editor. Good news for the four-month-old start-up.

Continue to read Michael Calderone, www.huffingtonpost.com

June 15 2011

21:32

Speed journalism: some stories need just a tweet, but some ...

The Daily :: "... real thought", writes Trevor Butterworth, The Daily, and continues to ask: "Would you prefer to read this column as a string of tweets?" - After a New York Times reporter forgot his pen and tweeted a report about tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., someone might think that the future of storytelling had arrived, and that it came in increments. Is it Twitter speech or is it writing, asked the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard? Are articles now luxuries, wondered Internet guru Jeff Jarvis? Would the State Department turn Twitter into a propaganda tool, worried Read Write Web?

Speed journalism - continue to read Trevor Butterworth, www.thedaily.com

June 11 2011

14:08

The Daily - 75 cents a word or a cautionary tale for freelance journalists

Poynter :: Barbara Correa says she got an assignment from The Daily about the business implications of Oprah’s final program and was offered 75 cents a word. She wrote the story, turned it in and got an acknowledgement from an editor. “That was the last I ever heard from [him]. The man is now MIA. He hasn’t responded to repeated phone calls or emails,” she writes in a letter to Romenesko.

Continue to read Jim Romenesko, www.poynter.org

May 28 2011

15:47

Why does The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad paper, lose staffers?

Huffington Post :: On Thursday, art director for news Gabriel Dance became the seventh staffer to depart since February’s launch. Given all The Daily's pre-launch hype and Murdoch's speech about how "new times demand new journalism" at the kickoff event carried live on Fox News, the ongoing departures, coupled with some harsh early reviews, have created a perception that News Corp. may have blundered in dropping a reported $30 million to develop and launch the iPad experiment.

Why does The Daily lose staffers?

Continue to read Michael Calderone, www.huffingtonpost.com

May 27 2011

14:30

This Week in Review: Confounding censors with Twitter, and space for big and small media on the iPad

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Censorship, the law, and Twitter: If we hadn’t already learned how social media are opening the traditional media’s gatekeeping role to the masses, we got a pretty good object lesson this week in Britain. Here’s what happened: To keep the British tabloids from digging into an alleged affair with a reality TV star, Manchester United soccer star Ryan Giggs took out a British court provision called a super-injunction that prohibits media from identifying him and reporting on both the story and the very fact that a super-injunction exists.

But the super-injunction was no match for Facebook, Twitter, and soccer forums, where thousands of people talked about Giggs and the affair in spite of (and because of) the order. Since then, a Scottish newspaper and a member of Parliament have both named Giggs, rendering the super-injunction essentially ineffective and causing quite a bit of handwringing over whether gag orders are a lost cause in the Twitter age, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

Giggs sued Twitter for the breach, and some members of Parliament started looking for ways to control the site. Prime Minister David Cameron said Twitter made Britain’s injunctions “unfair” and “unsustainable” for traditional media and urged Parliament to change them. Some people, including World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee and the Guardian’s Richard Hillgrove, said the problem lies with Twitter, not the law, with Hillgrove (rather absurdly) suggesting a delay mechanism to monitor posts before they go up: “Twitter and Facebook are not blank sheets of paper. They are media publishers like any other.”

Others faulted the law instead: At the Guardian, Dan Gillmor said it allows the wealthy to play by different rules, and the Telegraph’s Harry Mount said that thanks to the web, “a form of people power has been effectively absorbed into that new body of privacy law.” The Vancouver Sun’s Mario Canseco documented the failure of gag orders in the Internet age in Canada, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM advised courts and governments to quit trying to enforce antiquated laws, saying they “may not like the implications of a totally distributed real-time information network, but they are going to have to start living with it sooner rather than later.”

Then, of course, there’s the question of whether the anonymous online super-injunction violators have any legal repercussions to worry about. As the New York Times noted, Twitter has been resistant to turning over its users’ identities in the past, though a Twitter official said this week it will hand over user info to the authorities if it’s legally required to. But even with Twitter’s compliance, there would still be hurdles to clear in identifying users, the Telegraph explained.

iPad channels for big and small media: Several big-media publications neared or hit iPad milestones this week: On stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, The Daily’s Greg Clayman said it’s nearing a million downloads since it was launched in January. Clayman wouldn’t say how many paid subscribers the News Corp. iPad-only publication has (a far more interesting figure in determining The Daily’s viability), but Adweek’s Lucia Moses said The Daily will announce its number of paid downloads — it only started charging in March — once it hits a “target level.”

Meanwhile, Wired and GQ were made available for in-app subscriptions through Apple App Store this week, after their owner, Condé Nast, became one of the first major publishers to strike a deal with Apple for in-app subscriptions earlier this month. Another major publication, Playboy, launched an iPad subscription outside the App Store, because it obviously has some difficulty complying with Apple’s “no nudity” policy.

Playboy’s app is essentially an iPad-optimized website, which might seem like a tempting option for publishers who don’t want to deal with Apple’s restrictions, but as Mashable and GigaOM explained, Playboy might be uniquely positioned to pull this off where others can’t. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram looked at those cases and weighed the pluses and minuses for publishers of getting into bed with Apple.

Of course, big publishers aren’t the only ones getting into the iPad game: At paidContent, Ashley Norris, CEO of a small publishing company that just released an iPad app, argued that indie publishers could play a key role in developing the tablet magazine. Flipboard is a pretty ideal model for those publishers: It’s valued at $200 million, and SiliconAngle’s Tom Foremski said it exemplifies the current en vogue tech-bubble business plan: “find free content and organize it into a useful interface.” That niche might not play as big of a part in the iPad market as we think, though: As Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman noted via ReadWriteWeb, news apps make up only 3% of all the apps in the App Store.

Driving more traffic from Facebook: Facebook has been working hard lately to cozy up to news organizations, and this week it provided some statistics that may have some of those organizations looking more closely at integrating Facebook into their sites. According to stats Search Engine Land got from Facebook (so grain of salt, etc.), the average media site integrated with Facebook has gotten a 300% jump in Facebook referral traffic, and ABC News, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post have all reportedly doubled their traffic from Facebook since adding social plugins. Meanwhile, Fortune’s Peter Lauria talked to Facebook’s Vadim Lavrusik about the possibility of news orgs charging on Facebook using Facebook credits, like some Facebook games do now.

As it’s been known to do, Facebook played a big role in the aftermath of another natural disaster this week when a tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. The local newspaper, the Joplin Globe, told Poynter about how they set up a Facebook page to help people find family and friends in the tornado’s wake, and KOMU’s Jen Lee Reeves wrote about her station’s Facebook efforts at PBS MediaShift.

Elsewhere in social media and news, the New York Times experimented this week with a human-powered Twitter feed, as opposed to its usual mostly automatically driven style. The Times’ Liz Heron (and a couple of other newspaper social media editors) talked to Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman about their Twitter strategies, and Jessica Roy of 10,000 Words looked at how the experiment changed the Times’ Twitter feed. Heron also revealed the Times’ informal social media guidelines at the BBC’s Social Media Summit: “Use common sense and don’t be stupid.”

Reading roundup: Not a lot of big future-of-news stories this week, a several smaller things worth keeping an eye on:

— Google notified publishers late last week that it’s abandoning its project to scan and archive hundreds of years of old newspapers. The Atlantic’s Adam Clark Estes lamented the decision, and Paul Balcerak urged newspapers to pick up where Google left off.

— This week’s AOL/Huffington Post bits and pieces: Huffington Post Canada has been launched, AOL’s Daily Finance has been made over, and some HuffPo staff are reportedly leaving because they’re upset with how the AOL/HuffPo marriage has gone so far. Meanwhile, even though AOL’s content is free, CEO Tim Armstrong expressed his general belief in paid content online.

— Ben Huh of the Cheezburger network of comedy sites announced he’s working on what he’s calling the Moby Dick Project — an effort to reform the way news is presented and consumed online. ReadWriteWeb gave more details of the type of software he’s developing.

— A couple of addenda to last week’s linking discussion: Former Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Fry wrote about solving the workflow issue at newspapers, and at the Guardian, Dan Gillmor called out lazy linking — linking to a summary, rather than the original piece — in online aggregation.

— CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis made a case for news as conversation and the value of comments, and at 10,000 Words, Alex Schmidt wrote about the way poisonous online comments can affect reporters.

— Finally, Canadian media consultant Ken Goldstein issued a paper looking at decline circulation of newspapers in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. He included a possibly remarkably prescient 1964 quotation by media theorist Marshall McLuhan: “The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

May 25 2011

19:52

Milestone - Publisher Greg Clayman, ‘The Daily’: we're close to a million downloads

TechCrunch :: At the “Disrupting Publishing from Tablets to Links” panel at TechCrunch Disrupt, ‘The Daily’ Publisher Greg Clayman revealed an interesting milestone about Rupert Murdoch’s foray into tablet publishing. When asked by editor Erick Schonfeld whether or not the iPad app was doing well, Clayman revealed that it has been downloaded close to a million times, in the sixty days since its launch on February 2nd.

Continue to read Alexia Tsotis, techcrunch.com

April 01 2011

17:12

iPad lessons from The Daily

John Kilpatrick, vice president of design for The Daily, provided an inside look into the new iPad app at the ISOJ.

The Daily is a custom application with a custom content management system that was built from the ground up for product.

The idea is to be able to create custom experiences everyday, exploring what works and what doesn’t work, he said.

Kilpatrick explained that the experience of news on a tablet is difference from print or the web.

The Daily’s approach was not to be platform agnostic, but rather create something for a specific news experience on a specific device.

What we have created is a curated experience, said Kilpatrick. So it is digital, but not endless.

The approach at The Daily draws from broadcast, print and web, he explained. From broadcast, the lean back experience. From print, it’s finite, From the web, it’s interactive and connected.

But it also wants to avoid some of the pitfalls of other media, such as the overuse of breaking news in broadcast, PDF-style app from print and long scrolling pages from online.

The design team was drawn from the New York Times, AOL, Vogue, Live Nation, film production and more.

Kilpatrick ended by running through some of the editorial content, its advertising and its original use of video, and offering some insights.

He has found that people mainly use the iPad at night in the US and most people are connected when they are reading The Daily.

60% of readers view The Daily vertically and 40% horizontally.  But Kilpatrick also added that many shift orientation during usage. What this means is developing pages that work both ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 25 2011

14:00

This Week in Review: The New York Times’ fees and free-riders, and tying community to local data

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Debating the Times’ pricing structure: There was really only one big news story in the media world this week: The New York Times’ paid-content plan, which is live in Canada now and coming to everyone else on Monday. I divided the issue into two sections — the first on general commentary on the plan, and the second specifically about efforts to get around the paywall.

We learned a bit more about the Times’ thinking behind the plan, with a story in the Times about the road from its last paid-content system, TimesSelect, to this one, and an All Things Digital interview with Times digital chief Martin Nisenholtz, in which he said, among other things, that the Times didn’t consider print prices when setting their online price levels. Former Times designer Khoi Vinh also looked at the last couple of years, lamenting the lost opportunity for innovation and the legacy of TimesSelect.

There were a couple pieces written supporting the Times’ proposal: Former CBS digital head Larry Kramer said he’d be more likely to pay for the Times than for the tablet publication The Daily, even though it’s far more expensive. The reason? The Times’ content has consistently proven to be valuable over the years. (Tech blogger John Gruber also said the Times’ content is much more valuable than The Daily’s, but wondered if it was really worth more than five times more money.) Nate Silver of Times blog FiveThirtyEight used some data to argue for the Times’ value.

The Times’ own David Carr offered the most full-throated defense of the pay plan, arguing that most of the objection to it is based on the “theology” of open networks and the free flow of information, rather than the practical concerns involved with running a news organization. Reuters’ Felix Salmon countered that the Times has its own theology — that news orgs should charge for content because they can, and that it will ensure their success. Later, though, Salmon ran a few numbers and posited that the paywall could be a success if everything breaks right.

There were more objections voiced, too: Both Mathew Ingram of GigaOM and former newspaper journalist Janet Coats both called it backward-looking, with Ingram saying it “seems fundamentally reactionary, and displays a disappointing lack of imagination.” TechDirt’s Mike Masnick ripped the idea that people might have felt guilty about getting the Times for free online.

One of the biggest complaints revolved around the Times’ pricing system itself, which French media analyst Frederic Filloux described as “expensive, utterly complicated, disconnected from the reality and designed to be bypassed.” Others, including Ken Doctor, venture capitalist Jean-Louis Gassee, and John Gruber, made similar points about the proposal’s complexity, and Michael DeGusta said the prices are just too high. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow disagreed about the plan structure, arguing that it’s well-designed as an attack on Apple’s mobile paid-content dominance.

Are paywall loopholes a bug or feature?: Of course, any barrier online is also a giant, flashing invitation to get around said barrier, and someplace as influential as the Times was not going to be an exception. Several ways to bypass the Times’ pay system popped up in the last week: There was @FreeNYT, the Twitter account that will aggregate Times content shared on Twitter, and NYTClean, a browser bookmarklet that strips the Times’ paywall coding, allowing you to read the Times just like normal. The Lab’s Josh Benton noted how easy the hack was to come up with (four lines of code!) and speculated that the Times might actually want nerds to game their system, “because they (a) are unlikely to pay, (b) generate ad revenue, and (c) are more likely to share your content than most.”

So how has the Times responded to all this? A bit schizophrenically. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said the people who would find ways around the system would be “mostly high-school kids and people who are out of work.” And the Times asked Twitter to shut down the aggregating Twitter accounts (for a trademark violation) and extended its limit on daily search-engine referrals beyond Google. But the Times is also widening some pathways of its own, making it so you can’t hit the wall directly from a blog link, and offering 200,000 regular readers free online access for the rest of the year through an advertiser.

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan mocked the Times’ behavior toward wall-jumpers as an effort to have its paid-content cake and eat it too: “This wall is designed, as best I can tell, only to be a barrier to your most loyal — and most stupid — readers.” Slate’s Jack Shafer made a similar argument to Benton’s, pointing out that online free-riders aren’t keeping paying customers from reading the Times (like, say, someone who steals a paper edition, as Sulzberger analogized) and are actually help the paper continue its influence and reach.

Adding community to local data: EveryBlock, a three-year-old site owned by MSNBC.com that specializes in hyperlocal news data, unveiled its first major redesign this week, which includes a shift in focus toward community and location-based conversation, rather than just data. All place pages now allow users to post messages to those nearby, using what founder Adrian Holovaty called the “geo graph,” rather than the “social graph.” Mashable added a few valuable details (notably, the site will bring in revenue from location-based Groupon displays and Google ads).

Holovaty answered a lot of questions about the redesign in a Poynter chat, saying that the site’s mission has changed from making people informed about their area as an end in itself to facilitating communication between neighbors in order to improve their communities. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram applauded the shift in thinking, arguing that the main value in local news sites is in the people they connect, not in the data they collect. At 10,000 Words, Jessica Roy noted that the change was a signal that hyperlocal sites should focus not just on the online realm, but on fostering offline connections as well.

NPR on the defense: Two weeks on, the hidden-camera attack on NPR continues to keep it in the middle of the news conversation. Following last week’s vote by the House to cut off NPR’s limited federal funding, several media folks made cases to keep NPR’s federal funding alive, including the Washington Post’s Len Downie and Robert Kaiser and Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark. NPR host Steve Inskeep argued that NPR’s most important work has nothing to do with any liberal/conservative bias. “Think again of my colleagues in Libya, going forward to bear witness amid exploding shells. Is that liberal or conservative?” he asked.

Elsewhere, James O’Keefe, the producer of the gotcha video, and Bob Garfield of NPR’s On The Media had it out on the air, and DailyFinance gave a picture of NPR’s financial situation. Howard Kurtz of Newsweek and The Daily Beast wrote that some NPR journalists think that NPR management’s passive, reactionary defense of their organization is damaging it almost as much as the attacks themselves.

Reading roundup: Not too busy of a week in the media world outside of Timesmania. A few things to take note of:

— A quick news item: Journalism Online, Steve Brill’s initiative to help media companies charge for their content online, is being snatched up by the Fortune 500 printer RR Donnelley, reportedly for at least $35 million. PaidContent broke the story, and Ken Doctor wrote about the unexpected difficulties the startup encountered.

— At the New York Review of Books, Steve Coll wrote a thoughtful piece on the competing claims regarding technology’s role in social change.

— For the stat nerds: The Lab’s Josh Benton looked at the latest of the continual stream of depressing graphs flowing from the newspaper industry, and Peter Kafka of All Things Digital analyzed the source of traffic for some major sites across the web, comparing the influence of Facebook and Google.

— For the academic nerds: Here at the Lab, USC Ph.D. candidate Nikki Usher talked to media sociology rock star Herbert Gans about targeted and multiperspectival news, and Michigan Ph.D. candidates William Youmans and Katie Brown shared a fascinating study about Al Jazeera and bias perception.

March 02 2011

00:00

John Gruber on Apple’s 30% cut: To the victor goes the pricing power

John Gruber at Daring Fireball has an extended take on the justice or injustice of Apple’s 30-percent cut of all iPhone/iPad subscriptions. (He comes down on the side of justice. Or at least a kind of it’s-fair-because-we-can justice.) If you, like many publishers, are still cranky about Apple’s decision, give it a read to get a reasoned argument for the other side. (One that’ll probably still leave you cranky — but reasoned nonetheless.)

Here are a few thoughts on some of Gruber’s arguments:

Apple doesn’t give a damn about companies with business models that can’t afford a 70/30 split. Apple’s running a competitive business; competition is cold and hard. And who exactly can’t afford a 70/30 split? Middlemen. It’s not that Apple is opposed to middlemen — it’s that Apple wants to be the middleman. It’s difficult to expect them to be sympathetic to the plights of other middlemen.

To the broad category of “middlemen” I’d add “companies whose economics are built for other platforms.”

For all the developers who’ve built native apps for the iPhone or iPad from scratch — say, game developers or productivity app developers — they’ve been able to build their business strategy from a known cost base and a known revenue scheme. If you know that you’re going to be selling 99-cent apps, you can build a business around the expectation of revenue coming in 99-cent chunks. (Or, more accurately, 70-cent chunks, after Apple’s cut.)

But if you’re a business that already exists, with its own native pre-iOS economic basis, you’re laden with a bunch of preset economic variables. If you’re a newspaper, you’ve already got a newsroom with X number of reporters and Y number of photographers and Z number of editors. (Which were probably around 2X, 2Y, and 2Z ten years ago.) You’re coming to a new platform, but it’s not an entirely new product you’re creating — you were already paying those reporters. And when you’re calculating something like pricing, you’re doing that with an understanding that you’re also navigating the economic space between what you’re already charging for your website (likely $0 now, although you’re planning on changing that later this year) and what you’re already charging for a print subscription (whether that’s $12, $20, or $30 a month). You’re already scared to death about trying to convince people they should pay for your website — and then all of a sudden, the monthly number you’d been planning to charge for your iPhone app needs to go up 30 percent to make the math work.

Now, that’s not Apple’s problem. Gruber’s right: Apple doesn’t give a damn about newspapers. The financial difficulties of American newspapers are not Apple’s fault and they’re not Apple’s to solve. And unlike Google — which has put a lot of energy into making newspaper-friendly noises to try to repair a relationship that bottomed out a couple of years ago — Apple doesn’t throw the industry any bone bigger than showing off nytimes.com in product demos.

But regardless of whether you think newspapers deserve any sympathy for their plight (good arguments on both sides!), it’s not just middlemen who are disadvantaged by Apple’s large take.

Kindle, and e-book platforms in general, are a different case. For one thing, Kindle doesn’t use subscriptions. Kindle offers purchases.

The Kindle does actually offer subscriptions, both to newspapers and blogs, like Daring Fireball itself. (Given where DF ranks in the Kindle Store, he probably has about 5-8 people paying $1.99 a month to read the site on their Kindles. We have 16! That’s likely to be the only traffic-related number where we edge Gruber.)

I don’t think any publisher would consider Amazon’s Kindle subscription model an improvement over Apple’s, though, for a host of reasons — not least that it’s Amazon who controls pricing, not the publisher, not to mention Amazon takes an even steeper cut than Apple does.

Second, the problem facing traditional publishers today is that circulation is falling. Newsstand sales and subscriptions are falling, under pressure from free-of-charge websites and other forms of digital content. The idea with Apple’s 70-30 revenue split is that developers and publishers can make it up in volume — that people aren’t just somewhat more willing to pay for content through iTunes than other online content stores, they are far more willing. The idea is that that Apple has cracked a nut no one else has — they’ve created an ecosystem where hundreds of millions of people are willing to pay for digital content. Thus, potentially, publishers won’t just make more money keeping only 70 percent of subscription fees generated through iOS apps than they are now with 96 percent (or whatever they’re left with after payment processing fees) of subscription fees they’re selling on their own — they stand to make a lot more money.

There’s no doubt that Apple’s built a great payment system. Although I’d also point out that it benefits from the natural market segmentation that comes whenever you sell expensive devices. Does the iPad make people more likely to buy digital goods? Or does the fact that someone has paid $499 or $829 for an iPad serve as a pretty good marker that they’re already the kind of person more likely to pay for digital goods? I think there’s truth in both.

To look at it from another angle, any developer will tell you that there are many more Mac users who buy shareware apps than Windows users. (I’m speaking in terms of percentage; obviously there are many more Windows users than Mac users. But a larger percentage of Mac users will download and pay for a $15 app than will Windows users.) Now, pre-Mac App Store, Apple didn’t make paying for software any easier than Microsoft did. But Mac users are, by their self-selected nature, people who were willing to spend a little more to get a better computing experience — in other words, people who are predisposed toward paying.

The other factor here is the idea of who “deserves” credit for bringing a customer to a purchase. As Apple said in its announcement, “when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share.” And if someone discovers Tiny Wings (great game!) in the App Store rankings and downloads it, I think Apple’s certainly earned its 30 percent.

But if someone searches for and downloads The New York Times app — after the Times has spent more than a century building up its brand, as the cost of billions of dollars — can it really be said that Apple has “brought” that subscriber to the app, and that they deserve 30 percent of the revenue the app generates, forever? (Gruber doesn’t address the eternal nature of Apple’s cut; it’s like paying a New York apartment broker his finder’s fee, every year for the rest of your Manhattan-dwelling life.) It certainly seems like a transaction different in kind from, say, a game that exists only on (and only because) the iPhone platform.

Again, it’s a case of being disadvantaged if you’re bringing over an economic model from outside the platform. There’s a reason Rupert Murdoch said he was fine giving Apple 30 percent of the revenues from The Daily — but why he’s no doubt less thrilled about having to give over 30 percent of the revenue generated by The Wall Street Journal’s app. The Daily’s economics are built around getting 70 cents a subscriber each week. The Wall Street Journal has a host of price points in other media it needs to fit an iPad price into. (Not to mention an annual cost 4x The Daily’s.)

Finally, also note that most App Store developers don’t have such a readily substitutable good available for free over in Safari, the web browser. If you don’t want to pay 99 cents for Angry Birds, you don’t have the option of going to Safari and playing it for free. Again, you can blame newspapers for that state of affairs, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But given the degree to which newspapers are having to balance free and paid in a variety of ways to make digital revenue work, it’s a tough moment to be pushed into a corner by Apple’s decision.

This is what galls some: Apple is doing this because they can, and no other company is in a position to do it. This is not a fear that in-app subscriptions will fail because Apple’s 30 percent slice is too high, but rather that in-app subscriptions will succeed despite Apple’s (in their minds) egregious profiteering. I.e. that charging what the market will bear is somehow unscrupulous. To the charge that Apple Inc. is a for-profit corporation run by staunch capitalists, I say, “Duh”.

Of course. Apple’s not a charity. It has no financial reason to help out any content industry. While those of us who wish the newspaper business well would love to see a different approach, in the end, it’s Apple’s choice and they can do what they please.

And iOS subscriptions won’t fail. I wager that most of the news publishers grumbling about the issue now will come around and give the cut to Apple. They might increase their investment in Android phone and tablet apps a little, but let’s be honest: Apple’s still the big dog here. (Android users have inherited Windows users’ disinterest in paying for software or digital content.)

It’s just galling that the incumbent players in the news business face so many economic disadvantages because of their background, and because of their investment in journalism, that it would have been nice for this to be different.

Yes, the financially sound thing for them to do would be to abandon the old cost structure and instead build a digital-native company that could happily turn over 30 percent of revenues to Apple and reap all the benefits (distribution, scale, payment platform) that Apple provides.

The only problem with that, with that model, you end up, well, with something like The Daily — something light and tabloidy, something in nugget form, something that looks for the oldest dog in America. (Actually, I suspect you end up with less than that, because I’m not optimistic that Murdoch will get the subscriber numbers he needs to be profitable. And I say that despite being a great admirer of many of the people working there.)

With all the great innovation that’s gone on in the news space, there are still no for-profit newsrooms with the scale and heft and journalistic weaponry of the nation’s biggest newspapers. They’re still important, and they’ve been looking to the app economy as a big part of their efforts to figure out a place in the digital economy. It would have been nice if Apple might have cut them some slack. Yeah, that’s not Steve Jobs’ problem — I get that. Apple’s earned their pricing power by being innovative and smart. But it still would have been nice.

February 15 2011

18:13

THE DAILY: NO EXCLUSIVE NEWS IS BAD NEWS

Jesse Angelo, editor-in-chief of The Daily, sent a memo to his editorial team urging them to go beyond “scraping the web and the wires” and do some actual reporting.

Read his memo and you will see why The Daily is in big trouble.

Subject: The News

Folks, Egypt is over – time for us to get focused on covering America.

We need to get out there and start finding more compelling stories from around the country – not just scraping the web and the wires, but getting out on the ground and reporting. Find me an amazing human story at a trial the rest of the media is missing. Find me a school district where the battle over reform is being fought and tell the human tales. Find a town that is going to be unincorporated because it’s broke. Find me a story of corruption and malfeasance in a state capitol that no one has found. Find me something new, different, exclusive and awesome. Find me the oldest dog in America, or the richest man in South Dakota. Force the new White House press secretary to download The Daily for the first time because everyone at the gaggle is asking about a story we broke. Get in front of a story and make it ours – force the rest of the media to follow us.
It’s good stories that will keep people coming back to The Daily – we’ve assembled a crack news team, so let’s show the world what we can do.

February 10 2011

15:00

The Newsonomics of overnight customers

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

It’s a new epidemic of digital-pricing strategery, to borrow a fading term, now breaking out within the newspaper executive suites of the western world. Rupert will soon be charging 99 cents a week for The Daily, and dozens of dailies are laying out digital payment plans to be put into effect this year. Some are hiring top-drawer consultants to parse the many possibilities and run the odds of success before they throw the dice.

The questions are many. Do I charge print subscribers anything extra for digital delivery? If so, how much? If I add a fee for print subscribers, is it opt-out or opt-in? Do I offer a day pass or week pass, or just stick with monthly and annual subscriptions? If I put up a wall, where do I place it? Do I restrict content access by type — allowing free access to classifieds, commerce, and commoditized national and global news, but keep the somewhat proprietary local stuff locked up? Do I let readers read some — maybe 10 or 20 pages a month — of their choosing before making them pay to go further? How many bundles should I offer, and what’s in them?

We’re in uncharted territory. We know very little about consumer behavior when it comes to paying for journalism because the old, steady, entrenched models worked so well for so long that they barely changed over decades. Then the Internet came along and publishers felt compelled to give away their work for free — a subject to be featured in many psychology dissertations to come — as they abandoned, for a 15-year period it appears, a two-legged (advertising + circulation) business model.

A year from now we’ll have lots of data, parsed by all of us every which way from London to New York to Memphis and Augusta to Dallas to San Jose and Modesto, and then we’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and indeed, what “works” means in dollars (and pounds) and cents.

For now, though, the paid plans consist of commonsense, conjecture, conventional wisdom, consultant graphs, and, I believe, some fascinating assumptions about human psychology. On the eve of the launches of more paid offers, let’s examine four of those assumptions underlying this new era.

Let’s call it the newsonomics of overnight customers, which is our first psychological model, and one that I think may turn out to be the most promising.

Our four psychologies:

The psychology of the overnight customer

In north Texas, if you’re a Dallas Morning News subscriber, you’ll wake up sometime after March 1 (the loose date for the debut of the company’s digital paywall), and find that you no longer have a split identity. Though for 15 years you’ve been a “subscriber” for print and a “user” for online, you’re now just a customer. You pay your $30 or $33.95 (the new price as of Jan. 1) a month, and you get seven days of the Morning News and access to the Morning News’ new digital bundle, consisting of desktop/laptop, smartphone, and tablet availability.

That’s right. You’re no longer a “user”, a hateful term if ever one were invented, or a “visitor,” or a brother from another digital planet. Overnight, you’re a customer again.

In this psychology, a news company has put a value on what it produces. You, the customer, now are being shown that value. Maybe a year, or two, or three, from now, you perceive that value — forgetting all about those days of “free” — and value your relationship to the Morning News’ news, whether you access it by paper, phone, tablet, or TV screen.

The big hope: When you are ready to forsake pulp itself, you’re accustomed to paying for digital — you’re a customer of all, clearly — and do so without thinking twice. (And if the Morning News can save big bucks on not having to print and deliver a paper to you, and tens of thousands of your neighbors, it can significantly cut costs, increase profits, and maybe grow its news-gathering capability.)

We expect that after The New York Times’ finishes its own (higher-priced) pricing strategy, it, too, will offer print subscribers digital access as part of the coming “All-Access” bundles. Journalism Online says that about half of its newspaper clients will offer print subscribers no-extra-charge access to digital, while the rest will tack a small upcharge onto print bills.

This psychology, I believe, offers elements of a winning one. Why? It begins to change the artificial split between print and digital consumption. Most likely, it slows down — only temporarily, but every year makes a huge financial difference to news companies — print loss. Bundle it all together — print + digital — and there’s less incentive to drop print, even your use is declining. Less loss in the short-term helps retain print ad revenue, which is still 80 percent or more of all newspaper company ad revenue.

Secondly, it sets up publishers for the hastening print-to-tablet transition. If the kind-of-print-like tablet convinces readers to move away from print more quickly, the more they’ve been accustomed to paying for tablet digital, the less likely they are to balk at paying just for tablet digital.

Journalism Online cofounder Steve Brill will tell you that the company still urges publishers to charge something extra for digital access, even a $1.95 or $3.95 a month, often a 60 percent or more discount compared to what digital-only bundle buyers will pay. Whether you ask print subscribers to pay a small amount for digital access or give them access “free” as part of their print subscription (they still have to register for the restricted access even if no new payment is involved), they’re as likely to sign up for digital access, he says. If that holds, a small, incremental price itself may not be that much of an issue with print subscribers. Those that want it are as likely to pay for it as take it for “free,” as a new digital customer. It’s a way too early to know if that will be the case, but it’s one metric that should be at the top of publishers’ watch lists.

One way or the other, though, print customers are becoming digital customers, quickly. One key lesson here: It is newspapers’ print subscribers and regular readers who should be the likeliest to maintain their loyalty (and show the most willingness to pay of all potential audiences). In a sense, this is a back-to-the-future scenario, redrawing that big “circulation” circle as it was, but now including digital access.

The Forrest Gump psychology

Is a news site just a bunch of chocolates? If so, how important is it to allow would-be news customers to sample the wares before making them open their wallets? If you let them sample, can they sample all the treats, or just half the box — and which half?

Morris Communications’ Augusta Chronicle, partnered with Journalism Online’s Press+, now gives readers 25 pageviews a month before the paywall comes down, giving them access to the whole site. Dallas Morning News digital readers will find that most local stories — other than widely covered local news — have a small “D” symbol, indicating restricted access content that only print or digital subscribers can get access to. In Memphis, the current plan of Scripps’ Commercial Appeal is to start charging in the second quarter, but only for mobile access, while the website itself remains free.

Sampling is a big question. Print subscribers, who tend to be older, know what they are getting, while less habituated readers, who tend to be younger, may need to develop a habit. If sampling of the key, unique, proprietary stuff is made difficult, then how likely are news sites’ to develop a next generation of paying readers?

The psychology of the maze

So what happens when digital visitors bump into paywalls? Remember TimesSelect, and how disorienting that seemed to be to many. It makes people anxious to bump into a wall. Publishers hope that those who bump into walls (after 10-20 pageviews a month), and don’t pay, will come back the next month, and be more likely to pay then. Michael Romaner, head of Morris Digital, which has rolled out an Augusta-like model in Lubbock and plans six more similar rollouts by July 1 (and the rest of the company’s titles by the end of the year), says early data shows that 25 percent of those who ran into the wall paid up. Again, that’s very early data. Let’s see if that 25 percent number holds in Augusta and elsewhere, and what the tracking of the 75 percent — how many go away and never come back? — shows. How many just keep sampling, and are ad-monetized, but never fork over circulation dollars?

The psychology of the psych-out

Maybe news companies are overthinking all of this. Maybe they’ve psyched themselves into believing the world of free news content has really and profoundly changed — with little supporting evidence, other than a number of one-time news apps sales. It’s true that the metered systems, pioneered by the Financial Times and at the core of The New York Times’ and Journalism Online’s models, aren’t bet-the-company strategies. They are designed to keep the engine of growing digital ad revenue humming, allowing 80 percent or more of digital customers go on their merry non-paid ways, while turning those heavier digital readers into digital customers. If they succeed, they’ve picked up a new digital revenue stream, maybe laid down the first pavement to tablet utopia, and maintained a commitment to a digital ad future. All that combined may be just a middling success in revenue, though, as print (see both recent McClatchy and Gannett reports) ad revenues remain stubbornly negative.

If they fail — and that means losing more traffic due to paywalls than they anticipate — then news publishers have once again too strongly believed their own conventional wisdom and will pay the additional consequences.

February 03 2011

15:30

The Newsonomics of apps and HTML5

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

Apps are all the rage, with The Daily’s taking center-stage this week. With tabletmania sweeping the country, you can almost hear the howls of publishers across the country, as they implore their IT chiefs: “Get me an app, pronto!” Consequently, there are many busy hands at companies like Mercury Intermedia, Verve, Mediaspectrum, Bottlerocket, Mercury Intermedia, DoApp, WonderFactory and the New York Times’ Press Engine operation, all of which are meeting the demand.

Apps are a wonder, a come-out-of-nowhere phenomenon that Apple invented for the iPhone and has been perfecting ever since. Apple just passed the threshold of 10 billion app downloads, and has spawned an entire new industry of entrepreneurs and rival (Android, Blackberry and Amazon) stores.

And yet, if you talk to tech people at the tops of news companies, they don’t focus mainly on apps. They talk about HTML5. If apps are the popular phenomenon of 2011, publishers’ on-ramp to digital reader payment, HTML5 is the future, they’ll say. And they are rapidly building the foundation for that future now.

I’m far from a tech expert, but I have talked with enough people to know that the unfolding behind-the-scenes drama of app and HTML5 development is an important one, vital to the future prospects of the news industry as it forages for new sustainable business models and forges new digital products for the mobile age. So let’s take a peek at the interplay between native apps (those we know from iPhone and iPad  innovation) and HTML5 apps (those quietly being developed in great number). Most importantly, let’s begin to explore the newsonomics of these technological changes.

Beyond Apple vs. Adobe

Most of us non-tech people first heard of HTML5 when Steve Jobs told the world last April why he wouldn’t allow Adobe’s Flash in his apps. The announcement was played by much of the press as an Apple vs. Adobe power struggle, but technologists tell me that Flash had had its issues for awhile. It made Google search engine optimization, key to everyone, difficult — and then Apple’s very public non-support gave a strong push to the alternative of HTML5. Yet the handwriting was on the wall. “We are abandoning Flash as a way to solve problems — with its coding and weight issues — for HTML, Javascript and CSS [cascading style sheets],” says Rob Covey, senior vice president of content and design of National Geographic Digital Media.

Now companies, from The New York Times to NPR to National Geographic, are rapidly building out both staffs and products based on HTML5, “rethinking interactivity,” Covey puts it. They’re also determining how that new, expected, pervasive interactivity — witness The Daily’s debut — will be accomplished most efficiently. The technology, they say, is the essential foundation for next-generation products, web and mobile, more elegant and faster than previous HTML in its presentation and more flexible in its implementation.

One big benefit: the browser-delivered HTML5 app experience is remarkably like our gee-whiz experience of Apple’s native apps. “The big deal here is is that there is no latency,” says Guy Tasaka, a New York Times Company and NewsStand alum, who now heads Tasaka Digital, a tech consultancy to news companies. That means that the fluidity we’ve all come to love about apps is built into emerging browser-based applications. It also means, as Tasaka emphasizes, “the sense of a beginning and an end…. HTML5 apps give the user a sense of a package.”

For a good tour of these apps, check out Paul Miller’s recent Engadget piece, which both describes the phenomenon and provides screenshots of HTML 5-based sites from Flixster and Amazon to the Huffington Post, USA Today (even with one for Google iTV) and the New York Times’ Times Skimmer, updated from an earlier version produced two years ago. Use these pages and you get a similar sensation to that of Flipboard’s on the iPad. (Flipboard CEO Mike McCue talks with Om Malik about HTML5+ here.)

So, in effect, the coolness of apps can be replicated, more or less, through the browser-based apps.

The app conundrum

The impact of an app-like browser experience is a big, and multi-edged, one.

On the tech level, it means a major re-training of staff in HTML5, a process that began more than a year ago at The New York Times, says Times CTO for digital operations, Marc Frons. (The Lab talked with Frons earlier this week about the paper’s new article recommendation engine.) “I knew HTML5 would have a major impact, but it has happened faster than I thought,” he tells me. Frons says much of that training, a reskilling really, is done — and that the company is well on the way to using HTML5 as the basis for most of its digital development. Rob Covey says that the retraining issue is a nuanced one, a smaller challenge with savvy developers ramping up their skills, and larger one for website producers used to using more basic coding to create pages.

On a business level, it creates a conundrum.

Steve Jobs not only created an unexpected revolution with apps. He also proved that people would pay for them. Indeed. Analysts say this new (native) app industry generated $5.2 billion in 2010 and could hit $15 billion this year. The great majority of that revenue is non-News, of course, but news publishers have begun to build their “paid content” hopes on apps nonetheless. The Guardian, The Washington Post  and CNN are among those charging small subscription prices for smartphone apps, but the big expected payoff is coming this year, as many news publishers see tablet apps as the route to cementing paying digital relationships.

Why? There seems to be some mental toggle that consumers do, swapping their demand for “free online” for a willingness to pay for mobile apps. Maybe it’s the perceived freedom of mobile. Maybe it’s the sense that we are buying something tangible — an app, a product — and making it our own on the smartphone or the tablet. Maybe it will last; maybe it won’t.

A balancing act

Yet if news technologists are right that browser-based HTML5-powered apps can deliver great experiences, then why do we need native apps? Some will tell you that apps are just a front, a way of productizing something that their new browsing experiences can deliver just as well. The power is in the code, not the app. But will readers pay for something they don’t own? Maybe apps will just become shells for delivering HTML5.

Which brings us back to the tablet. On the iPad, we can both consume news through an app and through a browser. Publishers report, among early adopters, a range of experience as to how much access comes via one or the other. As various paid tablet models go forth, this question may become a big one.

Publishers have to wonder: Is it the romance with discrete, ownable apps that consumers are willing to pay for, or is it the wider experience? We can see, in the makings of Apple’s evolving publisher subscription policies, an understanding of this dilemma. That may be why Apple is forcing news publishers to restrict browser access to news if they want to retain their direct customer relationships with readers — and continue to offer enabling apps through iTunes. There’s a balancing act here, in the uncertain interplay between native apps and HTML5 apps, as both publishers and Apple try to hedge their bets.

“Give it a year”

For now, it’s a twin development path. Apps are still a big news rage in 2011 — most would pay the price of admission to both the tablet and the paid reader content games — so the app creation companies are doing land-office business, and big news companies are creating apps even as they focus increasing peoplepower on HTML5.

Yet the promise of next-generation (later 2011-2013+) user experience seems solidly rooted in HTML5. That twin development is costly, a headache for smaller publishers, and still another factor separating out the big news boys — the Digital Dozen I identified in the Newsonomics book — from the rest of more local, smaller, more struggling news companies. Further, it’s just one more example of how the future of the business of news is rooted in technologies, from HTML5 to vastly improved analytics, which, among industry leaders, are now starting to drive strategy and execution.

In the end, we’ll see technological possibility and business heft mix and match in unpredictable ways. One technologist suggests that “application of the web using HTML5 is just a phase. Websites will eventually surpass apps in readability and usability as designers and technologists combine the best features of an app with the immediacy and depth of the Web.”

It’s hard to know at this point what that quite looks like, but, as he says, “Give it a year.” Then, though, business realities will determine how stuff gets built and sold. Remember those 10 billion downloads? The new app store ecosystem — not just Apple’s, but Google’s, Amazon’s, Palm’s and Blackberry’s — will drive some of that decision-making, as well.

[Image by Justinsomnia used under a Creative Commons license.]

February 02 2011

21:00

“Serendipity and surprise”: How will engagement work for The Daily?

All of us here at the Lab watched the unveiling of The Daily (even those of us who are on a beach sipping umbrella drinks).

But there was something that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said that seems significant now that the genie is out of the bottle. He said this about today’s readers:

“They expect content tailored to their specific interest to be available any time, anywhere. Too often this means that news is restricted, only to interest that have been predefined. What we are losing today are the opportunities for true news discovery. The magic of newspapers and great blogs lies in their serendipity and surprise, and the deft touch of a good editor.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that statement, but what is interesting to me is how it jibes with what we are learning about how engagement will work on The Daily — specifically how they plan to use comments and social media, and to access the greater Internet.

The Daily deserves credit for making strides to meet expectations of social functionality we see on news sites: You can share stories with your friends via email, Twitter and Facebook, and you can leave comments within the app. (Something we’re particularly interested in here at The Lab is audio comments. Seems to open up all kinds of questions — for example, what do trolls sound like? And can the comments be turned into more content, a comments podcast, perhaps? But I digress.)

Similar to The Washington Post iPad app, The Daily will be able to deploy Twitter feeds in stories or other features. Further, editor Jesse Angelo said today, they plan on linking out and pulling in HTML5 content as needed.

As Jon Miller, the News Corp. digital chief presenting The Daily, said, “The Daily is not an island. It definitely will be a part of the entire web discourse and the social world.”

The Daily seems to fit that description, but I can’t help but wonder: Can you really link to stories from The Daily? In the questions following the demo, Miller and Angelo gave the impression that access to The Daily from the greater web would be, well, tricky, to say the least. Stories shared from the app would be free (meaning if I send you a link from The Daily, you can see it). But direct from the homepage, apparently: not. (This seems similar to the balance the NYT has struck between walled garden and open web: side-door entry, through blogs and social media, leads to the same thing as front-door. But it’s the front door where you’ll be asked to pay for admission.) Angelo gave the impression that select content from the app would be mirrored online, but not the whole publication — or even the whole piece of content.

For The Daily to succeed, of course, it’ll need subscribers. But does that mean its Twitter feed, Facebook page, and blog will be used to engage readers — or simply as a promotion device?

So the question then becomes: How will the “serendipity and surprise” that Murdoch talked about actually work?

In a way, it would seem that The Daily wants to incorporate the web from inside the app, but not from outside it, taking it a step further than the “walled garden” approach we’ve seen in some apps. The app (if you’ll allow a Minnesotan transgression) reminds me of the Chaska Community Center, an indoor, one-stop destination that includes (deep breath) a soccer/multipurpose field, hockey rink, two gymnasiums, workout facilities, a movie theater, and swimming pool complete with a water slide several stories high. In other words, a lot of shiny, cool stuff that you can use all under one roof.

As an iPad-only newspaper, The Daily is clearly betting on people spending a lot of time on the device, and in some ways that seems to harken back to the glory days of subscribers reading every section of the paper. It wants to move away from the “drive-by” audience, instead rewarding subscribers for their loyalty.

Reader engagement, at least as we’ve come to think of it, requires an open and two-way exchange, one that can benefit publishers by potentially creating a stronger connection with readers while putting their content in front of more eyeballs. As best as I can tell, story sharing and linking will have to come primarily from subscribers out to others, which would create limited opportunities for those “I didn’t know I needed that before now” moments of serendipity. Murdoch noted, during the launch, the benefits of “true opportunities for news discovery.” Whether The Daily will be able to create those, though, remains to be seen.

20:30
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