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June 18 2013

15:37

The Times of London, navigating audience with a strict paywall, retires its opinion Tumblr

times opinionWhen you bet on a strict, un-leaky paywall as The Times of London has, you’re forced to get creative about how to put your work in front of new audiences — particularly if you’re trying to influence their opinions. Unlike its fellow Times across the Atlantic, the U.K. paper has chosen not to allow a set number of articles per month or a number of free routes around the paywall.

So a year ago, The Times set up a Tumblr for its opinion content, with the aim of giving “a flavour of what our columnists and leader writers do, how they think, and what influences their writing.”

After initially posting 80 times or more a month, posting fell off, and earlier this month, the Times Opinion Tumblr was shut down, with editors announcing they would be moving all opinion content back to its original home on the newspaper’s main site.

“We wanted to see if it attracted new readers to The Times and were very clear, with ourselves and our readers, that it was an experiment to see how it could work for us. It flourished in parts, but we’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t quite right for us,” communities editor Ben Whitelaw wrote in a post that also appeared on the Times Digital Development blog.

The Times reactivated its Comment Central opinion blog — behind the paywall — on the same day that the Tumblr blog was shuttered. Whitelaw wrote that posts to the blog would occasionally be free-to-access.

Nick Petrie, The Times’ social media and campaigns editor, told me that the Tumblr page was part of an effort to draw in new digital subscribers to TheTimes.co.uk. Regular Times columnists like Oliver Kamm and Daniel Finkelstein posted shorter “off-the-cuff” pieces on the page, which were freely viewable to all visitors. Times Opinion had amassed 66,000 followers since its launch, Petrie said, “but it wasn’t driving traffic back to the site.”

“Tumblr seemed like a good, light, easy-to-use platform that we could use to give people a taste of our comment and opinion, which is obviously the type of journalism that the Times is renowned for,” Petrie explained. “There was a hope that pushing out a small amount of original journalism, of original comment and opinion, would further enhance the idea of giving people a taste of what’s on offer if they became a subscriber.”

Reaching an audience to influence

What to do about opinion writing behind a paywall is a question newspapers have dealt with as long as there have been paywalls. Opinions, after all, are meant to influence, and influence would seem to grow along with the audience reading them. The Wall Street Journal, a paywall early adopter, committed early on to posting many of its opinion pieces online for free even while most news content was subscriber-only. Meanwhile, The New York Times took the opposite approach in the mid 2000s with TimesSelect, which kept the news free but put the newspaper’s columnist behind a paywall.

(The Wall Street Journal also began posting pieces from its editorial page on an Opinion Journal Tumblr, but back in 2007; like the U.K.’s Times, the Journal also stopped updating the page about a year after its debut.)

Petrie said that The Times had not specifically set up analytics for the Times Opinion Tumblr, so the editors aren’t sure what kind of traffic the page generated. According to comScore data, The Times has seen a substantial increase in traffic over the past year, from 748,000 unique worldwide visitors in April 2012 to nearly 1.5 million in April 2013 — but that’s still far behind other British newspapers without strict paywalls such as The Guardian, which has over 18 million monthly uniques in the United States alone and well over 30 million worldwide.

The Times, owned by the soon-to-split News Corp., remains on shaky financial ground; last week, acting editor John Witherow announced that the paper would be cutting 20 editorial jobs as a result of the parent company’s decision to separate its newspaper and entertainment holdings, The Guardian reported. The Times has seen a major decline in online readership since erecting the paywall in 2010.

“The idea is that everything that we publish is worth being paid for,” Petrie said.

Teaser pages, which allow readers to view the first 100 words of every article, were integrated into the Times site in October 2012 and may be a driver of The Times’ increased traffic. Only 881,000 unique visitors came to the site in October 2012 according to ComScore — a modest increase from the previous spring.

After the 100-word previews became a standard part of the site, Petrie said that the opinion Tumblr “became slightly defunct in that moment…We’re pursuing a strategy that essentially, we want to bring people in to see our journalism, rather than take our journalism out of our space — that’s why we’ve relaunched the Comment Central blog, which had been incredibly popular before we started charging.” That blog will soon feature podcasts on opinion topics, and Petrie noted that the Times is developing new strategies to attract paying subscribers to the site.

“That’s something we’re working on at the moment, but we’re not ready to talk about that yet,” he said.

May 29 2013

18:17

It’s time to talk about interns

It’s graduation season, and the end of the academic year means thousands of college students and grads are headed off to their summer internships. Just in time for their departure, David Dennis wrote a piece for The Guardian exhorting the journalism industry to end its reliance on the unpaid intern industry, which Dennis says prevents low and middle-class students from ever achieving media careers, thereby disenfranchising wide swaths of the population.

At the same time, ProPublica has launched Investigating Internships, a crowd funding effort to help pay the salary of an intern who will, in turn, use their time there to “tell the stories of the millions of interns across the U.S.”

We plan to send our intern to college campuses across the country, collecting intern stories in a visual way (think video, animation, graphics). We will be closely involved from ProPublica HQ, training our intern in multimedia, reporting and editing skills while they’re on the road.

These stories are a vital part of this investigation. While our reporters will focus on deep dive watchdog reporting, our intern will help highlight the human side of the issue in a visual, creative way.

However, if we don’t raise the money to cover the salary, travel and production costs, we won’t be able to hire someone.

So if you’re moved by Dennis’s arguments, you can do your part by helping at least one journalism intern get paid this summer.

April 03 2013

22:05

Intercontinental collaboration: How 86 journalists in 46 countries can work on a single investigation

piggy-bank-offshore-banking-beach

On Thursday morning, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will begin releasing detailed reports on the workings of offshore tax havens. A little over a year ago, 260 gigabytes of data were leaked to ICIJ executive dIrector Gerard Ryle; they contained information about the finances of individuals in over 170 countries.

Ryle was a media executive in Australia at the time he received the data, says deputy director Marina Walker Guevara. “He came with the story under his arm.” Walker Guevara says the ICIJ was surprised Ryle wanted a job in their small office in Washington, but soon realized that it was only through their international scope and experience with cross border reporting that the Offshore Project could be executed. The result is a major international collaboration that has to be one of the largest in journalism history.

“It was a huge step. As reporters and journalists, the first thing you think is not ‘Let me see how I can share this with the world.’ You think: ‘How can I scoop everyone else?’ The thinking here was different.” Walker Guevara says the ICIJ seriously considered keeping the team to a core five or six members, but ultimately decided to go with the “most risky” approach when they realized the enormous scope of the project: Journalists from around the world were given lists of names to identify and, if they found interesting connections, were given access to Interdata, the secure, searchable, online database built by the ICIJ.

Just as the rise of information technology has allowed new competition for the attention of audiences, it’s also enabled traditional news organizations to partner in what can sometimes seem like dizzyingly complex relationships. The ICIJ says this is the largest collaborative journalism project they have ever organized, with the most comparable involving a team of 25 cross border journalists.

In the end, the Offshore Project brings together 86 journalists from 46 countries into an ongoing reporting collaboration. German and Canadian news outlets (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, and the CBC) will be among the first to report their findings this week, with The Washington Post beginning their report on April 7, just in time for Tax Day. Reporters from more than 30 other publications also contributed, including Le Monde, the BBC and The Guardian. (The ICIJ actually published some preliminary findings in conjunction with the U.K. publications as a teaser back in November.)

“The natural step wasn’t to sit in Washington and try to figure out who is this person and why this matters in Azerbaijan or Romania,” Walker Guevara said, “but to go to our members there — or a good reporter if we didn’t have a member — give them the names, invite them into the project, see if the name mattered, and involve them in the process.”

Defining names that matter was a learning experience for the leaders of the Offshore Project. Writes Duncan Campbell, an ICIJ founder and current data journalism manager:

ICIJ’s fundamental lesson from the Offshore Project data has been patience and perseverance. Many members started by feeding in lists of names of politicians, tycoons, suspected or convicted fraudsters and the like, hoping that bank accounts and scam plots would just pop out. It was a frustrating road to follow. The data was not like that.

The data was, in fact, very messy and unstructured. Between a bevy of spreadsheets, emails, PDFs without OCR, and pictures of passports, the ICIJ still hasn’t finished mining all the data from the raw files. Campbell details the complicated process of cleaning the data and sorting it into a searchable database. Using NUIX software licenses granted to the ICIJ for free, it took a British programmer two weeks to build a secure database that would allow all of the far-flung journalists not only to safely search and download the documents, but also to communicate with one another through an online forum.

“Once we went to these places and gathered these reporters, we needed to give them the tools to function as a team,” Walker Guevara said.

Even so, some were so overwhelmed by the amount of information available, and so unaccustomed to hunting for stories in a database, that the ICIJ ultimately hired a research manager to do searches for reporters and send them the documents via email. “We do have places like Pakistan where the reporters didn’t have much Internet access, so it was a hassle for him,” says Walker Guevara, adding that there were also security concerns. “We asked him to take precautions and all that, and he was nervous, so I understand.”

They also had to explain to each of the reporting teams that they weren’t simply on the lookout for politicians hiding money and people who had broken the law. “First, you try the name of your president. Then, your biggest politician, former presidents — everybody has to go through that,” Walker Guevara says. While a few headline names did eventually appear — Imelda Marcos, Robert Mugabe — she says some of the most surprising stories came from observing broader trends.

“Alongside many usual suspects, there were hundreds of thousands of regular people — doctors and dentists from the U.S.,” she says, “It made us understand a system that is a lot more used than what you think. It’s not just people breaking the law or politicians hiding money, but a lot of people who may feel insecure in their own countries. Or hiding money from their spouses. We’re actually writing some stories about divorce.”

In the 2 million records they accessed, ICIJ reporters began to get an understanding of the methods account holders use to avoid association with these accounts. Many use “nominee directors,” a process which Campbell says is similar to registering a car in the name of a stranger. But in their post about the Offshore Project, the ICIJ team acknowledges that, to a great extent, most of the money being channeled through offshore accounts and shell companies is actually not being used for illegal transactions. Defenders of the offshore banks say they “allow companies and individuals to diversify their investments, forge commercial alliances across national borders, and do business in entrepreneur-friendly zones that eschew the heavy rules and red tape of the onshore world.”

Walker Guevara says that, while that can be true, the “parallel set of rules” that governs the offshore world so disproportionately favor the elite, wealthy few as to be unethical. “Regulations, bureaucracy, and red tape are bothersome,” she says, “but that’s how democracy works.”

Perhaps the most interesting question surrounding the Offshore Project, however, is how do you get traditional shoe-leather journalists up to speed on an international story that involves intensive data crunching. Walker Guevara says it’s all about recognizing when the numbers cease to be interesting on their own and putting them in global context. Ultimately, while it’s rewarding to be able to trace dozens of shell companies to a man accused of stealing $5 billion from a Russian bank, someone has to be able to connect the dots.

“This is not a data story. It was based on a huge amount of data, but once you have the name and you look at your documents, you can’t just sit there and write a story,” says Walker Guevara. “That’s why we needed reporters on the ground. We needed people checking courthouse records. We needed people going and talking to experts in the field.”

All of the stories that result from the Offshore Project — some of which could take up to a year to be published — will live on a central project page at ICIJ.org. The team is also considering creating a web app that will allow users to explore some (though probably not all) of the data. In terms of the unique tools they built, Walker Guevara says most are easily replicable by anyone using NUIX or dtSearch software, but they won’t be open sourced. Other lessons from the project, like the inherent vulnerability of PGP encryption and “other complex cryptographic systems popular with computer hackers,” will endure.

“I think one of the most fascinating things about the project was that you couldn’t isolate yourself. It was a big temptation — the data was very addictive,” Walker Guevara says. “But the story worked because there was a whole other level of traditional reporting that was going and checking public records, going and seeing — going places.”

Photo by Aaron Shumaker used under a Creative Commons license.

August 10 2012

15:53

July 30 2012

20:41

Rafat Ali on building a media company on top of public data

Ten years ago, Rafat Ali wanted to build a company that could chronicle the transformation of media and technology. Now he hopes to do it again, this time in the world of travel. His new project Skift sounds at first a lot like paidContent: a mix of original reporting and aggregation tailored for a savvy, niche, information-hungry audience.

But this time around, Ali is placing his bet less on a stable of journalists and more on a team of product designers, developers, and, yes, journalists. Skift wants to be a media company in the same way Politico or Bloomberg is a media company: an information provider with a news wrapper. Skift bills itself as a “travel intelligence media company,” not a standalone news site.

Ali told me the way Skift will grow its audience and its fortunes will be through information services, not just news. “What we’re trying to do with Skift is scale quickly on content,” he said. “The more fortunate part for us is everybody covers travel in bits and pieces, so for us it’s a matter of bringing it all together.”

But Skift is more than just a curator of travel news. Ali and cofounder Jason Clampet want to collect a vast data library to build tools that would be useful not just to the travel industry but anyone hoping in a car, train or bus to get away. Ali has funded the site himself up to launch and has raised $500,000 from investors like former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz and former MySpace president Jason Hirschhorn. As designed, Skift — the Swedish word for “shift” — would be a media company built on a stable of products, not just content. “We’re starting with what we’re grandly sort of calling the world’s largest data warehouse of publicly available travel industry data,” he said.

That means things like visit and occupancy information that tourism boards report to the government, departures and delay information from airports, and flight data supplied by airlines to agencies like the FAA. It’s the type of information typically hidden away in Excel spreadsheets on seldom visited agency websites. “We’re gonna try and collect it, clean it, normalize it, put it in a dashboard that humans can understand, and then build services on top,” he said. He said they will also create APIs for the travel data they harness on the site.

Skift has a staff of four, including Ali, and they’ll be announcing the hire of a product development person soon. Ali stresses that as Skift grows they will hire more writers — but the writers will be focused on original reporting, not the things aggregation and curation can pick up more easily. Ali said curation is still an undervalued asset that can prove useful to content creators as well as their audiences. The day-to-day news of airlines’ fuel prices or the ebb and flow of tourism can be aggregated from elsewhere. Ali wants the site to chase the big stories, the airline bankruptcies and innovations in travel tech. “We’ll not get there in the next year, but we’ll get there in due time,” he said.

Ali has been around the media game for a while, having sold paidContent to The Guardian in 2008 and left the company in 2010. He’s gained an insight into how a media business can stay viable today. Focusing on a niche audience is one method of doing that, especially if that audience is highly engaged and willing to spend. Business travelers and travel industry executives are just such an attractive bunch. “We look at business travelers, professional travelers a bit like tech fanboys, where they like to consider themselves like experts in what they’re doing,” he said.

Ali said it’s not enough to simply provide people with news — it has to be valuable or actionable information. It also helps if you can package multiple resources together. In the travel industry, businesses are divided into areas like editorial (travel guides), transactional (booking flights and hotels), and organizational (plan your trip, track your flight). But there’s a fair amount of randomness that goes along with that. You may look up art museums through Frommers, find your flight through Hipmunk, and use GateGuru to navigate airports. “With Skift, on the business traveller side, we’re trying to take the randomness out of the equation and make a more directed way of delivering information,” he said.

Also in the long-term plans for Skift: a membership or subscription service. Ali believes the possibility of better data tools for travel is a step in that direction. But another option would be to create events, something paidContent has had success with. Ali said the they plan to hold one major event, a travel analog to All Things D’s D conference, which would appeal to travel industry executives, travelers, and technologists. “We’re trying to build a crossover media brand, a new kind of media company where the underpinning will be data, and then media as the layer on top of it,” he said.

Image of Rafat Ali by Brian Solis used under a Creative Common license.

April 18 2012

17:46

Who watches the watchmen? The Guardian crowdsources its investigation into online tracking

As Guardian journalists were preparing to launch their new investigative project on cookies and other online tools that track you around the web, they realized they had to figure out just what kind of trackers exist on their own website.

Turns out this isn’t an easy task. “There are so many legacy ones from us that we forgot about — we had to do some research,” said Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian.

Like many news sites, the Guardian has a mix of cookies — some for geotargeting where readers are, some for registering readers on the site, some for advertising, and more. The end result was this illuminating guide that lays itself over a story page and shows what cookies the Guardian uses. That kind of transparency fits with the Guardian’s embrace of what it calls open journalism, but it’s also an incentive for readers to uncover what kind of cookies follow them around the web. As part of their investigation, the Guardian wants readers to help guide their reporting by telling them what cookies they encounter in their day-to-day internet use. Thanks to Mozilla’s Collusion add-on, users will be able to track the trackers and then hand over that data to the Guardian.

“Essentially what we’re saying is, ‘You tell us what cookies you receive over the period you use this tool and we will find out which are the most prevalent cookies,’” Katz said. “We will do the work of finding out what they are and what they do.”

This week the Guardian is publishing Battle for the Internet, a series that looks at the future of the Internet and the players involved, from the private sector to governments, militaries, and activists. Cookies have an new significance because of a regulation passed last year that requires sites based in the U.K. to inform users they are being watched.

Joanna Geary, the digital development editor for the Guardian, said the idea is to go deep on cookies — not just what they do, but the companies behind them, what happens to the information they collect, and how they connect various parts of the web. Geary said the Collusion tool was perfect for this project because it not only tracks the trackers, but it provides a helpful — if not scary — illustration of how cookies work across various sites. “The Guardian being what it is, and being conscious of our commitment to open journalism, it felt like this was the right project to get our readers involved in,” she said. As for the Guardian’s own self-examination, “I think it would be weird if we had undergone any sort of crowdsourcing project without doing it,” she said. “We have the responsibility of telling people what we use on our site ourselves.”

Asking the crowd for help is a regular part of the Guardian’s playbook, and because of that they’ve learned a bit about what works and what doesn’t. Katz said a big part of success in crowdsourcing it the ease of contributing to a given project, whether you are asking someone to look at a document for a few minutes or put a pin on a map. This project could prove a bit more tricky since it requires downloading a browser add-on (that only works on Firefox) and later exporting data to the Guardian.

But just as important as the ease-of-use question is the motivation, Katz said. “You have to tap into an issue people are relatively fired up about,” he said. “You can’t sort of create that sense of urgency unless people already feel it.” Katz said people need to not only feel like they are making a difference — they also have to see their work in action. Katz admits that not all of the Guardian’s crowdsourcing efforts have been as successful as they hoped, saying the responsibility for that lies with the paper “when we have not reflected that work back in an interesting way.”

Katz said the graphics team will work on visualizations from the cookie data to display findings from readers. But the ultimate fate of any further reporting rests in what the audience finds. Instead of reporting out what it sees as problem cookies, the paper is asking readers to show what trackers are a growing part of daily life online. “It’s a genuine sort of combined enterprise, that both sides are bringing something to the party,” he said. “In this case, you bring the data and we’ll do the reporting.”

Image from Danny Sullivan used under a Creative Commons license.

April 17 2012

13:32

Pay Walls and Social Media Could Shift the Public Agenda

If conversations around digital journalism have been dominated by anything in the first quarter of 2012, it's probably been about subscriptions, also known as pay walls. Walls are going up at the L.A. Times and Gannett papers, and getting higher at The New York Times. And the editor of The Guardian asked his readers, "What would you give the Guardian? Money, time or data?"

wall.jpg

At the end of last year, Raju Narisetti proposed a pay wall alternative he dubbed the "'Why don't we pay you?' pay wall" ... and then left the unwalled Washington Post for the walled Wall Street Journal.

The conversation all this time has been focused on whether the shift toward digital subscriptions will save the news business. But the more interesting and important question is whether and how it will change the news content and public discourse.

There's never been a question that people will pay for digital content. Give people information they need to profit professionally or enjoy personally, and they will pay for it. But what about all the boring and bad stuff? What about the kind of iron-butt reporting that has journalists cover legislative subcommittee meetings just so powerful people know the public is watching? And the quarter million-dollar investigations that find the hidden winners and losers?

That news doesn't entertain; it doesn't give me a competitive edge; and it doesn't save my family money in the short run. Those kind of stories make big waves every now and again, but no matter how high the pay wall, once the story is out, it spreads via broadcast news, social media and word of mouth. Even those who don't pay for it get to benefit from its impact.

social media's role

The role that social media plays in the subscription pay model isn't fully understood -- by me at least. I'd like to find the time to ask about whether paying subscribers share more or different stories than non-subscribers.

In any case, with a pay wall in place, subscribers will -- as always -- set the agenda more than non-subscribers. Some subscribers will be more influential than others, either because they have more followers or because they provide a better filter. In either case, the future of public discourse lies with subscribers. We need to know more about who they are and how their desired public agenda differs from non-subscribers.

It's easy to suspect that only the elite would pay for news -- only people whose personal social and economic decisions are determined by taxpayer money and public markets -- and that the topics that interest those folks may not be particularly populist.

But then I stumbled across a January 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center that seems to indicate that the willingness to pay for news may not be as elitist as I originally thought: African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to say that they would pay a monthly subscription fee if that was the only way to get full access to their local newspaper online. But there's no significant difference among any age groups under 65, nor is there a difference between men and women. On the other hand, college grads and people who make more than $75,000 a year are more likely to say they would pay for online local news than people who make less and have less education.

So does the public discourse look different if the people who subsidize original reporting -- and then share it -- are rich, educated, racial and ethnic minorities? After paying to see the news, what would they share? And who would they share it with?

the social distribution of news

The democratization of publishing means that alternative points of view would always be waiting in the on-deck circle anytime the paid-stream media misses a story its audience cares about. So it's also important to predict what kind of effect the audience's sharing patterns would have on journalists who want to make sure their pay walled reports remain valuable enough to make ends meet.

The social distribution of news has two benefits for news organizations -- they sell advertising against each unique visitor, and they have an opportunity to convert the social media samplers into paying subscribers. But if the role of advertising at news organizations becomes a significantly lower share of revenue, then eyeballs alone won't matter as much. News organizations might be less interested in running "water cooler" stories that are cute and fun alone. And they might be more inclined to run stories that target an audience that wants more than 140-character summaries.

Research collaborations between academics and industry could help us make better guesses -- and making good guesses on this topic will be important for any news organization that understands it doesn't sell ads or subscriptions, but trust and influence.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Aunty P.

February 09 2012

22:10

GigaOM + PaidContent = Perfect Sense

When the U.K.-based Guardian Media Group bought PaidContent in 2008, it was portrayed as an attempt to expand into the U.S. market. The Guardian newspaper was a forerunner in its use of the web, and already got a large portion of its traffic from North America.

But I had trouble seeing why a general interest news organization, even a forward-looking one, would buy what was a essentially network of niche sites geared toward media and technology executives.

Now, a company that's steeped in the businesses of Silicon Valley, GigaOM, has a acquired "the best chronicler of the media industry," founder Om Malik wrote on his blog yesterday. "The ethos of PaidContent and our company are in sync."

The founder of ContentNext Media (PaidContent's parent company), Rafat Ali, who is co-host of this site's Mediatwits podcast, seemed equally pleased.

"Just married the woman of my dreams & the company I founded got the best owner possible. Both after false starts," he tweeted from New Delhi.

When news of the acquisition spread this week, it wasn't a particular surprise to anyone who'd been watching either company over the last several years. It made perfect sense -- and actually, a lot more than the Guardian purchase in 2008.

So, the news signals two things: 1) the formation of a tech media super-group and 2) a shift in strategy for the Guardian.

The Players

Rafat_Ali.jpg

New York-based PaidContent has since its founding in 2002 been one of the leading properties covering the business of media, especially digital. It expanded into coverage of mobile with MocoNews, Indian tech media with ContentSutra, and launched PaidContent:U.K. The sites in January received more than 700,000 unique visitors, according to reports.

The GigaOM network, founded by Malik in 2006, is based in Silicon Valley and covers tech industry verticals such as clean tech, broadband and Apple. It says it receives 4.5 million unique visitors monthly.

Both networks were founded by Indian-born journalists who'd worked in the heady 1990s of New York's Silicon Alley, Ali for Silicon Alley Reporter, Malik for Red Herring and Forbes. Malik moved to Silicon Valley in 2000 to work for Business 2.0.

Ali and Malik are also good friends, and Ali is on GigaOm's board of advisers.

Malik has talked of wanting to try his hand in business after covering it for so long. He worked tirelessly to build his company from a blog covering technology to a network, a research subscription service, and an events company.

Standing with Ali and Malik in the fall of 2007, I heard Ali quietly caution his friend to take care of his health. "Blogging can kill you," I remember him saying. Eerily, a couple months later, Malik suffered a heart attack. He has recovered but is said to be more careful about his work habits today.

Ali, whom I have worked for and with and who is also a friend, has told me of running the business off his laptop both in London and from his apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lived before coming to New York a few years ago.

He, too, worked tirelessly and because of that, PaidContent developed a reputation for never missing a beat. He formed the company almost by accident, having launched it as a way to get a job after Silicon Alley Reporter, and was able to sustain himself with speaking engagements and a few sponsorships.

He hired noted journalist Staci Kramer, who helped him build the site and the staff and became senior vice president at the parent company ContentNext.

staci_d._kramer-s.jpg

"This is a great outcome of an intense process," Kramer wrote me last night in an email. "Guardian News & Media gave us a great vote of confidence with the initial acquisition and again now by making sure we were matched with the right company, then staying as minority shareholders."

GigaOm Gets Quality Staffers

Malik wrote that the "first and perhaps most important reason" for the deal was "people. I have been an admirer of PaidContent's editorial team from the very beginning of its journey. Rafat Ali and Staci Kramer were two of my favorite writers in the early days of professional blogging."

He also cited others on the team, including Ernie Sander (whom I worked with at the AP), who he said would become "executive editor of our sprawling online editorial operations."

ernie_sander-o.jpg

Together, Ali, Kramer and others built an event business and launched ContentNext Dex, a financial index of media-related sites and a research arm, neither of which seemed to take hold. Ali told an M.B.A. class of mine he visited last year that ContentNext, which he left in 2010, made a significant share of its revenue from events.

After 2008, New York media types sometimes marveled how Ali & Co., and Mediabistro.com founder Laurel Touby, my former boss, both sold just before the "nuclear winter," as a friend from Mediabistro called the subsequent economic collapse.

Mediabistro was paid $23 million by what's now WebMediaBrands, $3 million of that in longer-term "payout" bonuses should the company hit certain performance markers. The Guardian paid 4 million pounds (about $6.3 million at today's exchange rate) for PaidContent in 2008, the Guardian reported yesterday.

The guardian as PaidContent's guardian

It's not surprising that in the recent environment and focused on other areas, the Guardian couldn't quite make its new venture thrive.

One of the smaller of leading U.K. media organizations, and solely owned by a trust to keep it independent, the Guardian Media Group has struggled financially in recent years, reporting a before-tax profit for 2011 of 9 million pounds (about $14.24 million) after losses of 96.7 million and 171 million pounds, respectively, in the previous two years.

It has, meanwhile, pushed to get more of its operations into digital, an area where it could be innovative and expand its footprint to new markets.

It has launched blogs headed by aggressive reporters, had "hack days" that invited developers to figure out new ways to cover and present news, developed multiple feeds that allowed seamless intake and display of news and information, even given rather open access to its wider database via APIs (application programmer interfaces) that let others build applications on its proprietary data.

In the annual report, the company said its re-version-ed iPhone app had 322,000 downloads in less than its first three months. It last month ended a three-month free trial of its iPad app, opting to charge 9.99 pounds (about $16) after a week.

Guardian News & Media, the division that bought ContentNext, announced last November that "following a strategic review" it was looking for a buyer for ContentNext while it turned its U.S. focus to "building the Guardian." Guardian Media Group's 2011 annual report said the company was "looking ahead to further digital launches ... most importantly a major expansion in the U.S. with a new digital-only operation based in New York."

It recently launched the U.S.-focused GuardianNews.com.

Under terms of the deal, Guardian News & Media gets a minority stake in GigaOM alongside venture investors such as Reed Elsevier, Alloy Ventures and True Ventures. It also gets an observer seat on GigaOM's board, Malik said.

'A Fraction' of the Original Price

Neither Malik, the Guardian nor ContentNext named a price. Ad Age reported it was a "fraction" of the original deal. Guardian representatives pointed me to their statement online.

By taking a seat on GigaOM's board, the Guardian perhaps hopes to learn more about how the digital world works at the cutting edge. In turn, GigaOM gets more knowledge of media and the international sphere.

GigaOM, in acquiring ContentNext, gets a presence in covering the New York-centric media world, a crowded arena in which it has made forays but never solidified its hold.

They will turn the New York offices of ContentNext into GigaOM East, just blocks from where Ali and Malik used to work.

A GigaOM representative told Ad Age the company would keep PaidContent at its current web address and hadn't decided whether to fold it into GigaOM.com.

"By blending [PaidContent's] coverage with ours, we hope to watch this fast-changing industry ever more closely," Malik wrote.

The GigaOM purchase is hardly an "OMG" -- it just makes good sense.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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December 08 2011

13:30

Civic journalism 2.0: The Guardian and NYU launch a “citizens agenda” for 2012

Last August, Jay Rosen published a blog post arguing for “a citizens agenda in campaign coverage.” The idea, he wrote, “is to learn from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates to make a smart decision.” And the method of doing that, he suggested, is simply to ask them: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year’s election?”

Today, that idea gets one step closer to reality. Rosen and Amanda Michel — currently The Guardian US‘s open editor and formerly Rosen’s colleague at HuffPo’s 2008 OffTheBus project — are launching “the Citizens Agenda,” a collaboration between The Guardian and NYU’s Studio 20 program. Though the project will make use of some of the citizen-driven lessons of OffTheBus (and of The Guardian’s multiple experiments in mutualized journalism), the citizens agenda will be above all an experimental space dedicated to determining how to get people’s voices heard in campaigns that, though they purport to be concerned with the people’s interests, all too often ignore them.

The citizens agenda, the pair point out, is not a blanket attempt to end horserace coverage — campaigns are, fundamentally, races, and who’s winning them, you know, matters. Instead, they stress, it’s an attempt to disrupt the horserace as the “master narrative” of political reporting, to inject more perspective (and, for that matter, more data about the demand side of political journalism) into the conversation.

“When people complain about what’s wrong with the coverage, there’s an opportunity to find out…. well, what should the candidates be discussing?”

On the one hand, the citizens agenda is the digital — digitized — heir of civic journalism, the movement that (with Rosen at the helm) came to prominence in the 1990s and attempted to give individual members of communities more agency in the journalism that served them. On the other, though, while the citizen’s agenda is a kind of culmination of that movement — with, today, buy-in from one of the largest news organizations in the world — it’s also something entirely new. It will be, first and foremost, an experiment, Michel told me. They’re starting with an idea; they’re not sure exactly what will come of it. “It’s going to be an iterative process,” she says.

There are two basic goals for the effort, Michel notes: first, the need to understand what people want to learn from and about political candidates — to gain an appreciation, as Michel puts it, of “how the public wants to contextualize the debates and discussion.” Campaigns are notorious for, and in a large sense defined by, their attempts to control narratives; a citizens agenda is in large part an effort to provide a community-driven counter-narrative.

Studio 20′s role in the project, Rosen told me, will be in part to act as an interactive team that will help with the inflow and engagement of users; students in the program will also conduct research and analysis and think through — perhaps even invent — features and tools that can foster that engagement in new ways, testing them out on The Guardian’s U.S. site. (Michel calls the students a kind of “independent brain trust.”)

“We don’t think that the direct way of posing the question, What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in 2012?, is always going to work,” Rosen notes. “Some answers to that question might have to come about indirectly: for example, in dissatisfaction with media coverage as it stands.” So “when people complain about what’s wrong with the coverage and campaign dialogue, there’s an opportunity to find out…. well, what should the candidates be discussing as they compete for votes in 2012?”

“I think there is a kind of authority to be won here,” Rosen points out — a kind of permission for reporters to deviate from the expectations of rankings-based, rather than idea-based, coverage. “Of course, you have to be right, you have to be accurate, you have be listening creatively and well,” he says, and “with some subtlety and an awareness that each method has weaknesses and missing data.” Sampling science will certainly come into play. “This isn’t just reading numbers off a chart,” Rosen notes. “There’s a lot of judgment involved, obviously.”

The second goal of the project is to figure out how to translate those findings into political coverage itself. Which is a challenge that could have fascinating implications — and not just for political reporting. Once you know what people want from political journalism, how do you go about creating that journalism? What’s the right balance between competition-based, and issue-based, coverage? What’s the right balance, for that matter, between journalists determining coverage and the public determining it?

Helping to answer those questions will be Jim Brady and the collection of community papers at Digital First Media, which is partnering with the project to tailor the national findings to the local. “The concepts that they’re applying at a national level certainly don’t become less relevant at a local level,” Brady notes. Figuring out what the public wants out of coverage — and then figuring out how to implement it — can be, in fact, particularly powerful in community news. (That’s part of the reason the project is hoping to bring more local collaborators on board.)

“There has to be a way to turn this into a full-circle feedback loop.”

Though much of the Guardian’s experiments will likely involve online conversation tools like hashtags and surveys and the like, “it’s not an online-only feature,” Brady notes. At the local level, in fact, papers may well experiment with a citizens agenda approach in their print products — and with the kind of in-person debates and forums that were a hallmark of the early days of civic journalism. “We’ll use all platforms,” Brady says — “as in everything we do.”

Still, though, there will be strategy involved, Brady points out. You have to be smart about both how you ask questions and how you make use of the answers. “It doesn’t work if it becomes citizens pouring out their hearts about the issues they want to hear about,” he notes, if “we can’t, as journalists, tie that to actual action by the candidates. Otherwise, it’s just like message boards that nobody responds to. There has to be a way to turn this into a full-circle feedback loop.”

Finding that way will be crucial — and it will require, above all, an openness to both the wisdom of crowds and the political agency of average citizens. Which hasn’t always been journalism’s strong suit. The project will be, Rosen puts it, “a creative act of listening.” And it will be, in that, Michel points out, “a fairly dramatic acceptance of the knowledge and expertise that the public has” — not to mention a fairly dramatic act of humility on the part of the journalistic establishment. “The approach,” Michel says, “is to ask the American public: ‘What is it that you need? What can we do to help?’”

Image by SpeakerBoehner used under a Creative Commons license.

October 09 2011

19:00

Readers can help to make the news - The Guardian is opening up its newslists

Guardian :: Few documents are more carefully guarded in newspaper offices than the newslist. The mixture of what's coming up and what the editors are hoping for can be so valuable that rivals have even been known to pay for a sneaky look.  The idea of giving this information away before publication might therefore seem to be putting digital dogma before common sense. Just because the internet theoretically allows journalists to give readers a peek behind the curtain by sharing the list with them does not make it a good idea.

Dan Roberts: "We suspect otherwise though at the Guardian."

Continue to read Dan Roberts, www.guardian.co.uk

October 06 2011

16:00

The Newsonomics of f8

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.

Is it declaration of war, or of peace, or is Mark Zuckerberg saying he just really Likes us all very, very much?

“No activity is too big or too small to share,” the 27-year-old proclaimed at the recent f8 announcement. “All your stories, all your life…. This is going to make it easy to share orders of magnitude more things than before.” (f8 sounds, oddly, like FATE, but I think my paranoia is kicking in.)

“Excuse me, have we met?” is one response.

Another response to Facebook’s Ticket, Timeline, and News Feed initiatives is to go dating. Some quite influential publishers are road-testing the new features, while others ponder a light commitment.

In 2011, U.S. dailies’ digital ad take will be about $3 billion and Facebook’s $2 billion.

They should be aware that Facebook is bent on world domination — having targeted businesses now run by Amazon, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Flipboard, Pulse, Pandora, Last.fm, and Flickr, as well as legacy news and information providers — in the latest move. (Forget debating Google’s “do no evil” mantra; Google’s sin may have been that it thought too small.) That’s audience, though not business, domination, as Facebook’s EMEA platform partnerships director, Christian Hernandez, told PaidContent. “[f8] is not a commercial decision.” Got it. And Google just wants to help us better organize our info.

Facebook’s f8 signals a next round of digital disruption. Remember Microsoft’s decade-old bid to become the hub of our entertainment lives, as evidenced by its futuristic Consumer Electronics Show displays? Facebook has taken that metaphor — and updated and socialized it.

This unabashed push to remake the digital world in its own image would seem like laughable megalomania coming from many other sources in the world. But it’s not megalomania if others act like you’re not crazy. In fact, our story takes strange turns as this megalomania, so far, seems quite magnanimous to publishers, as Facebook looks to some like the best available date, compared to the other ascendant audience resellers (Apple, Amazon, and Google).

As leading-edge publishers move away from destination-only strategies, they seek to colonize other habitable web environments; Facebook now looks like the friendliest clime, allowing publishers to keep all the revenue from ads they are selling within their Facebook apps. In addition, Facebook is providing aggregated data on user engagement — active users, likes, comments, post views, and post feedback.

Buy-in from such brands as the Washington Post, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Yahoo helps to place Facebook’s push into the “normal” scale of corporate behavior.

Why are news players playing along? What do they think is in it for them?

Let’s look at the newsonomics of f8 and of the new social whirl.

“Rather than incorporate Facebook features into our site, we’ve looked at incorporating our content into Facebook.”

Let’s start with the stark, Willie Sutton reason: you work with Facebook because that’s where the audience is. In the U.S., Facebook claims more as much as seven hours of average monthly usage; globally, that number is four hours plus. It’s where would-be readers hang out.

Worldwide, it claims an audience of 800 million.

If Facebook is the hang-out mall, newspaper and magazine sites are grocery stores. People go there when they need something — to find out what’s new — and then leave. The comparative average monthly usage of news sites runs five to 20 minutes per month.

So exposure to audience is the no-brainer, here. The question is: to what end?

Step back from the flurry of news company announcements, or from the behind-the-scenes 2012 strategies-in-the-making, and publishers cite three top goals:

  • Lower-cost development of audience, especially audience that may become core customers.
  • Digital advertising revenue growth.
  • Establishing a robust, growing stream of digital reader revenue.

So how might f8 innovations help those?

Let’s start with brand awareness. It’s a digital din out there, a survival-of-the-feistiest time. Consumers will come to rely on a handful or two of news brands, goes the theory. So best to be high in their consciousness, and Facebook omnipresence in people’s lives offers that possibility.

Adam Freeman, executive director of Commercial for Guardian News and Media, explains Guardian’s digital-first strategy here this way:

Our digital audience has grown to a phenomenal 50m+, but, with the best will in the world, chances are we are never going to outpace and outstrip Facebook’s audience size. So we see an opportunity in that — rather than incorporate Facebook features into our site, we’ve looked at incorporating our content into Facebook. There is an untapped audience within Facebook who may not be regularly encountering Guardian and Observer content, and we think our app increases the the visibility of our content in that space.

Of course that brand consciousness needs to be acted on, which leads us to…

Lower-cost traffic acquisition. Online, publishers have invested in search engine optimization and search engine marketing. SEO makes them more findable in organic search; SEM pays for high-level brand placement. In addition, they’ve done deals with portals over the years; the current Yahoo deals of swapping news stories for links is a major one for many.

Against, though, Facebook is simply social media optimization (“The newsonomics of social media optimization”).

It’s another route to pouring newer customers into the top end of news publishers’ audience funnel, hoping a few tumble out the bottom as paying, regular readers. And any readers can be monetized with advertising.

SMO’s relative economics are better than SEO or SEM. Not only is SMO cheaper than SEM, some publishers say it “performs” better. That performance is best measured by conversions (registrations, more pages read, digital sub buying), while for others the jury is still out. And, at best, audience development multiplies off these new relationships.

“These new Facebook users aren’t necessarily finding the brand in traditional ways, nor do they necessarily hold longstanding brand affinity,” says Jed Williams, analyst at BIA/Kelsey.

Their social graphs, curators/editors, recommendations, etc. are doing the pointing for them. So they do arrive at the very top of the proverbial funnel. And, as they interact with the publisher, with them in turn comes their social network. Potentially, the exponential network effects take off, and new audience continues to breed even more new audience. Original audience targets emerge, and the funnel continually expands. At least in the best case scenario, it does.

Sale of paid products: If you are now selling digital subscriptions, you’re doubly interested in customer acquisition. Now publishers can discover the percentage of new audience they can convert to paying customers, though that’s not an easy proposition to figure out. That percentage will be tiny, but it may be meaningful.

Out of the chute, digital circulation efforts have focused strongly on longstanding customers. Publishers have wanted to keep their print customers paying. They want to reduce print churn by taking away customers’ ability to get the news they get in the paper for free online. They want to change the psychology of long-term readers, giving them a new understanding: You pay for news, in print or digitally.

Facebook looks like it may become a top media-selling marketplace, along with Amazon and Apple.

That’s round one, 2011-2012, of the digital circulation wars. Round two necessitates bringing in new customers, especially younger ones who don’t have print habits and may not have much news brand loyalty.

That’s a key place Facebook fits in. It’s a potential hothouse of new, younger customers.

“It isn’t obvious that we can be successful with premium content on social,” notes Alisa Bowen, general manager of WSJ Digital Network. The Journal, while not participating in the f8 launch, already has a significant trial in place. The same holds true of the spate of other recent WSJ innovations, like WSJ Live and its iPad apps. “WSJ Everywhere,” Bowen says, “tests what we’re doing for people who never come to the website.”

As publishers create more one-off tablet and smartphone products (“The newsonomics of Kindle Singles”), Facebook looks like it may become a top media-selling marketplace, along with Amazon and Apple.

Advertising revenue: Facebook is still so bent on building audience that it is providing publishers their best ad deals. Publishers can sell ads for display within their Facebook apps — and keep all the revenue. No revenue share, thank you. (At least for now.)

Data: “In addition to serving adverts from our own partners in the app, we have highly detailed but anonymized data from Facebook covering demographics and usage,” says Freeman. “We also have our own analytics embedded in the pages on the app, which will help us understand how our content is used and shared within the Facebook Open Graph.”

Learning about social curation. Social filtering will be a standard feature of all news (unless we opt out) by 2015. It’s not hard to see why. It’s old village world-of-mouth, jet-propelled by technology. How social curation will work is a huge question; how can it best co-exist with editorial curation, for instance? That kind of learning is one other benefit f8 partners tell me they hope to gain.

The Facebook dance is a cautious one. News publishers’ experiences with web wunderkinds have not, in general, been great ones. Witness the ongoing battles over revenue share percentages, customer relationships, and customer data access that have characterized the soap-opera-like Apple/publisher public spats. Amazon’s new Kindle tablet re-lights the question of publisher/Amazon rev share and data sharing.

September 15 2011

18:34

Nick Davies, Ana Marie Cox join Guardian's new U.S. operation

Capital New York :: The Guardian's new U.S. website has secured two more high-profile journalists for its roster. Nick Davies, the reporter who's blown the lid off some of the biggest scoops of the U.K. phone-hacking scandal for the British newspaper, will join the American operation next spring, and political journalist and founding editor of Washington gossip site Wonkette Ana Marie Cox.

Continue to read Joe Pompeo, www.capitalnewyork.com

15:00

The newsonomics of 1, 2, 3, 4

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.

Ah, the joys of print — and real world — serendipity.

Arriving in Berlin to speak at the annual Medienwoche, part of the IFA 2011 content-meets-tech conference, I took a post-flight stroll around my hotel. I picked up a Wired U.K. at a local newsstand (newsstands chock-full of magazines and newspapers seem ubiquitous in Germany, their big-city absence in America made more noticeable). It’s a good issue, exploring the top digital entrepreneurial hotspots across Europe, from a U.K. perspective.

Across from p. 82, my eye caught a house ad. It was selling all things Wired U.K., but selling them in a customer-centric way I hadn’t before seen. Reproduced below, you see how it focused on how customers may variously access Wired. It speaks “multi-platform,” “multimedia” and “news anywhere” much better than those compounded nouns (which, when you think of it, are starting to sound like multisyllabic German constructions).

It’s masterful in telling the reader simply, and with a bit of fun, what the Wired U.K. brand stands for, how you can pick your timeliness (now to annual), mode of ingestion (reading, listening, or attending conferences) and more.

In a second bit of terrestrial serendipity, it turned out that Wired U.K. Editor David Rowan was speaking at IFA two hours after my talk. He and his art director, Andrew Diprose, had already supplied a digital copy of the house ad. I told him how well I thought the ad captured a business model in the making, with a clear customer-centric approach. He thanked me for the comment, and added, “It’s just something we tossed together when we had an extra page.” Well, it may have been, but it shows how this Wired crew is thinking of their business, eating some of the digital dog food it dishes out in each issue.

The ad had particular resonance this week as I’ve been thinking about the question on everyone’s minds in the newspaper and magazine businesses: What’s the new business model — that hybrid print/digital or digital/print — going to look like? It’s clear to everyone at this point that while print has a significant role for as far forward as we can see, it’s receding in importance, and revenue, and that digital is the growth engine on which to focus.

It’s one thing to say that and quite another to say what the new business model will look like. How much revenue will come from what, when, and who?

Now approaching 2012, we see that 2011 has provided a few clues to that new business model. No one, though, even the world’s digital revenue news leader, Oslo-based Schibsted (with 30 percent of overall revenues driven by digital) will tell you that even the industry’s leader has not yet found a big, sustainable model able to support a large newsroom.

Let me propose a model I’m testing out, as we watch the rollicking developments in the industry. As paid digital-access plans roll out weekly, as Digital First becomes not just a catchphrase but a company, as tablet development moves to the front burner and as the TV business continues to outpace both newspapers and magazines, what are the common threads we can see?

It’s purposely a simplified, bare-bones structure. I call it the newsonomics of 1, 2, 3, 4 and welcome flesh to be added to the skeleton — and/or chiropractic adjustment as well.

It’s 1, 2, 3, 4, as in:

  • 1 brand
  • 2 major sources of revenue, advertiser and reader
  • 3 products: print, computer, and mobile
  • 4G, as in the coming of faster connectivity

Let’s look at each one, briefly:

1 brand

The first decade-plus of the web was all about collecting, bringing things together. That meant major wins (63 percent of U.S. digital ad revenue in 2011 is going to Google, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft — and Facebook) for those who aggregated. The act of collecting (curating if you prefer) was rewarded at the expense of those being aggregated. Now, as we approach 2012, we’re seeing a major re-assertion of brand, and its primacy.

Steve Jobs’ tablet-launching assertion that search is so yesterday was part sales pitch, part prophecy. The app is nothing if not the re-ascendance of brand, encapsulated in a few pixels. These tiny apps — from ESPN, The Atlantic, Time, the Guardian, and Berliner Morgenpost to The Boston Globe, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — all convey new promise. That promise has found a business model — all-access — to accompany. After years of wandering in the wilderness of customer confusion and self-doubt, news companies are saying: “You know us, you know our brand; you value us. Pay us once and we’ll get you our stuff wherever, whenever, however you want it”. Call it “entertainment everywhere” or “news anywhere,” or “TV Everywhere,” major media are now re-training their core audiences to expect — and pay for — ubiquity.

News companies are following the lead of Netflix, HBO, and Comcast (Xfinity), all now basing their hybrid old world (TV/cable/post office) and new world (smartphone, tablet, computer, and connected TV) on the same simple idea. In the first digital decade, news and entertainment was atomized by aggregators, dis-branded, as readers and viewers often flipped through Google, YouTube, or Yahoo without knowing who actually produced news or entertainment.

Now, we see brand re-emerging to signal top-of-mind awareness — and to earn those one-click credit card payments. These are friendlier brands, attempting to leverage and master the new social curation of news and entertainment.

2 major sources of revenue, advertiser and reader

For that first decade plus of the web, news publishers relied on one revenue source — digital advertising. That’s been like wheeling into the future on a unicycle, lots of careening and too little forward progress. As publishers have taken a long-term view of the business, the conclusion from Arthur Sulzberger and Rupert Murdoch to Dallas’ Jim Moroney and Morris’ Michael Romaner has been the same: We have little hope of creating a successful digital business without robust digital reader revenue. Reader revenue doesn’t have to be mean only digital subscriptions. Schibsted and Australia’s Fairfax are pioneering “services,” with Schibsted’s story-aided weight-loss programs prototypical. Newbies Texas Tribune and MinnPost are showing how reader-attended events are moneymakers. The tablet will spawn lots of new one-off paid reader products.

And advertising doesn’t mean just selling space. Most major news chains, from Advance to Gannett to Hearst, are becoming regional ad agencies, selling and re-selling everything from deals to Yahoo (or in Advance’s case, Microsoft) to search engine marketing to Facebook and Google to local merchants large and small. The New York Times pulled Lincoln “ad” money into digital circulation push. Sponsorships are coming back in a big way for mobile.

So, two revenues, tried, true, but twisting new. Will they be 50/50 supports of new models? Too early to say, but they provide us the rivers and tributaries to build new revenue stream models.

3 products: print, computer, and mobile

“Online,” of course, was first re-purposed print. Too much of mobile is, again, re-purposed online. Yet, the smarter all-access players, mostly national, are looking at their audience data and seeing how different usage is by device or platform. There are new products — MediaNews’ TapIn is emblematic — that are made for the tablet, with even smartphone utility in question and desktop a distant third. We’ll see three distinct ways of thinking about product: print, lean-forward desktop/laptop and lean-back tablet/on-the-move smartphone. Newspaper print becomes just another platform. This triad becomes more than a smart way to think about product development — it becomes a way of measuring costs, revenues, and metrics like ARPU.

4G, as in the coming of faster connectivity

Only in the last couple of years have we passed 50 percent broadband access in the U.S., which currently ranks ninth worldwide at 63 percent of households. We’ve forgotten the days when pressing on the play button on a website’s video player was a crapshoot. Between buffering and bumbling of all sorts, video only sometimes worked. Now, take a look at the just-launched WSJ Live on the iPad, and you see how far we’ve come. 4G is now on the mainstream horizon, and with it comes the higher valuing of news video. That’s a challenge for text-based newspaper companies, most of whom have taken only first steps to becoming truly multimedia companies. You can see the 4G glow in the eyes of John Paton’s new Digital First Media company. I’m told his New Haven Register now outproduces the local TV stations in digital video news creation; few newspaper peers can yet say the same. With ad rates for news video are still markedly higher than for text stories, any successful model must put video at the center of new products.

So, it’s 1, 2, 3 and 4, good tests of evaluating new company strategies — from the inside or out.

July 21 2011

15:30

The newsonomics of U.S. media concentration

The rise and potential fall of Rupert Murdoch is a hell of a story. It is, though, closer to the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins’ description Tuesday, “not a Berlin Wall moment, just daft hysteria.” Facing only the meager competition of the slow-as-molasses debt-ceiling story, the Murdoch story managed to hit during the summer doldrums. Plus it’s great theater.

Is it just imported theater, though? We have to wonder how much the cries of “media monopoly” will cross the Atlantic. Is there much resonance here in the States for the outrage about media power in the U.K.? Will the sins (its newspaper unit now being called to account by a Parliamentary committee for deliberately blocking the hacking investigation) of News International impact its cousin, Fox Television, the one part of its U.S. holdings regulated directly by government — or can it build a firewall between the different parts of News Corp.? (See “New News Corp. Strategy: Become Even More of an American Company.”)

Certainly, the tales of News International’s ability to strike fear in the London political class are chilling. Our issues in the U.S., though, are largely different. Both come down to who owns the media, and what we need in the diversity of news voices.

The question of media concentration here is tricky, complex, and a profoundly local question. Yes, there are national issues — but the forces of cheaper, digital publishing and promise of national and global markets easily reached by the Internet have spawned much more competition on a national level.

As to what kind of local reporting we get, we see powerful forces at work, shaping who owns what and how much. Likely, we’ll see some News Corp. fallout in FCC debates now re-igniting in and around Washington, D.C. — as the fire of regulating media burns more brightly here, even as Ofcom, the British regulator, grapples with similar issues.

That said, the question of media concentration, or what I will call the newsonomics of U.S. media concentration, will be fought out on two battlegrounds in the U.S. One is at the regulatory level, as the FCC looks at cross-ownership and the cap on local broadcast news holdings by a single national company, like News Corp., and may take into account its U.K. misdeeds. (Especially if the 9/11 victim wiretapping claims are borne out.) Second, and probably more important, sheer economic change is rapidly re-shaping who owns the news media on which we depend. The fast-eroding economics of the traditional print newspaper business are changing the face both of competition and of journalistic practice faster than any government policy can affect.

So this is how our time may play out. Smart, digital-first roll-ups align with massive consolidation.

First, let’s look at the print trade, at mid-year. The numbers are awful, and getting no better. We’ve seen the 22nd consecutive quarter of no-ad-growth for U.S. dailies, the last positive sign registered back in 2006. Further staff reductions, albeit with less public announcement, continue at most major news companies. This week, Gannett — still the largest U.S. news company — reported a 7-percent ad revenue decline for the second quarter, typical among its peers. Its digital ad revenues were up 13 percent, a slowing of digital ad growth also being seen around the industry.

We see a strategy of continuing cost-cutting across the board, with a new phenomenon — roll-up (“The newsonomics of roll-up“) — trying to play out.

Hedge funds — which bought into the industry through and after 14 newspaper company bankruptcies — are having their presence felt. Most recently, Alden Global Capital, the quietest major player in the American news industry, bought out its partners and now owns 100 percent of Journal Register Company. Alden, with interests in as many as 10 U.S. newspaper chains, apparently liked the moves of CEO John Paton. Paton’s digital-first strategies have more rapidly cut legacy costs than other publishers’ moves, and moved the needle more quickly in upping digital revenues.

No terms were announced, but Paton says “all its lenders were paid in full.” That would be a qualified success, given the bath everyone involved in the newspaper industry has taken in the last half-decade.

In JRC’s case, we’d have to say the push of hedge funds for faster change has been more positive than negative. Pre-bankruptcy, it was derided for its poor journalism and soul-crushing budgeting. Under Paton, who has brought in innovators like Arturo Duran, Jim Brady, and Steve Buttry, the company is trying to reinvent new, digital-first local, preserving local journalism jobs as much as possible. A work very much in early progress.

You can bet that Alden’s move is just one of its first. Sure, as a hedge fund, it may just be getting JRC ready to sell; hedge funds don’t want to be long-term operators. Before that happens, though, expect the next shoe to drop: consolidation.

JRC owns numerous properties around Philly, and a roll-up with Greg Osberg-led (and Alden part-owned) Philadelphia Media Network, has been talked about. Meld the same kind of synergies, and faster-moving print-to-digital strategies of Paton with Osberg’s new multi-point, Project Liberty plan, and you have a combined strategy. Further combine the operations into a single company — removing more overhead, more administration, more cost — and you have a better business to hold, or sell, or still further combine with still more regional entities.

It’s not just a Philly scenario.

In southern California, the question is how the three once-bankrupt operations — Freedom Communications, MediaNews’ Los Angeles News Group and Tribune’s L.A. Times (still not quite post-bankrupt, but acting like it is) — will mate. Over price, talks broke down about merging Freedom and MediaNews (both substantially owned by Alden; see Rick Edmonds’ Poynter piece for detail). Yet, everyone in the market believes consolidation will come. Now with Platinum Equity, another private equity owner, putting its San Diego Union-Tribune back on the market just two years after buying it for a song, we could see massive consolidation of newspaper companies in southern California.

Media concentration, perhaps in the works: Southern California, between L.A. and San Diego, contains at least 21 million people — or a third of the total population of the U.K. Philly and Southern California may among the first to consolidate, but the trends are the same everywhere.

So this is how our time may play out. Smart, digital-first roll-ups align with massive consolidation. It’s time to get our heads around that. That won’t necessarily mean that Alden, or other hyper-private owners, keep the new franchises. Their goal probably is to sell. But to whom, with what sense of public interest?

Which brings us back to broadcast, to which newspaper people give much too little shrift.

Both those in the old declining newspaper trade and those in the mature and largely flat broadcast trade (as an indication, Gannett’s broadcast division revenues grew to $184.4 million from $184 million in the second quarter) are beginning to figure the future this way: there may only be enough ad revenue in mid-metro markets (and smaller) to maintain one substantial journalistic operation. Not one newspaper and one local broadcaster. But, one, presumably combined text and video, paper and air, increasingly digital operation.

So, finally, let’s turn back to the FCC. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals just returned cross-ownership regulations back to the FCC, largely on procedural (“hey, you forgot the public input part”) grounds. In addition, it will likely soon take up the national cap on local broadcast ownership. (Good sum-up of FCC-related action by Josh Smith at the National Journal.)

Which brings us back to the News Corp story. The national cap — how much of the U.S. any one national company can serve with local broadcast — is 39 percent. Fox News does that with 27 stations, and, of course, has lobbied for more reach. So, the media concentration issue may play out as the cap is further debated, and as cross-ownership — a News Corp. issue in and around New York/New Jersey — returns as well. Will Hackgate’s winds blow westward, as local broadcast news concentration comes up again?

Though it may be shocking to many newspaper people, though, local TV news is a major source of how people get the news. Some 25 to 28 million viewers watch local early-evening or late-evening TV news, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. That compares to about a 42-million weekday newspaper circulation, so those numbers aren’t quite apples to apples. In my research for Outsell, I noted that local survey data indicated that reliance on TV news equaled that of newspapers.

As Steve Waldman’s strong report for the FCC pointed out, local TV news is “more important than ever” — but thin on accountability reporting.

So while much of the media concentration questions centers on print, local broadcast ownership, and direction of news coverage, matters a lot.

Combine that local concentration — 39 percent or more — with the sense that the market may only support single journalistic entitities and we’re back to the theme of media concentration, perhaps on a scale hitherto unseen.

A declining local press, with signs of impending roll-up. Stronger local TV news, weaker in accountability reporting, and pushing for more roll-up. Winds of outrage wafting over the Atlantic. Regulatory breezes gaining strength.

These are powerful forces colliding, and in the balance, the news of the day won’t be quite the same.

July 08 2011

14:00

This Week in Review: What Google+ could do for news, and Murdoch’s News of the World gets the ax

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

Google’s biggest social effort yet: This is a two-week edition of This Week in Review, so most of our news comes from last week, rather than this week. The biggest of those stories was the launch of Google+, Google’s latest and most substantial foray into the social media landscape. TechCrunch had one of the first and best explanations of what Google+ is all about, and Wired’s Steven Levy wrote the most comprehensive account of the thinking at Google behind Plus: It’s the product of a fundamental philosophical shift from the web as information to the web as people.

Of course, the force to be reckoned with in any big social media venture is Facebook, and even though Google told Search Engine Land it’s not made to be a Facebook competitor, Google+ was seen by many (including The New York Times) as Google’s most ambitious attempt yet to take on Facebook. The design looks a lot like Facebook, and pages for businesses (like Facebook’s Fan Pages) are on their way.

Longtime tech blogger Dave Winer was unimpressed at the effort to challenge Facebook, and Om Malik of GigaOM said Facebook has nothing to be afraid of in Google+, though All Facebook’s Nick O’Neill said Google+’s ubiquity across the web should present a threat to Facebook.

But the biggest contrast people drew between Google+ and Facebook was the more intuitive privacy controls built into its Circles feature. Ex-Salon editor Scott Rosenberg wrote a particularly thoughtful post arguing that Google+ more accurately reflects social life than Facebook: “In truth, Facebook started out with an oversimplified conception of social life, modeled on the artificial hothouse community of a college campus, and it has never succeeded in providing a usable or convenient method for dividing or organizing your life into its different contexts.” His thought was echoed by j-prof Jeremy Littau (in two posts) and the Guardian’s Dan Gillmor.

Google’s other ventures into social media — Buzz, Wave, Orkut — have fallen flat, so it’s somewhat surprising to see that the initial reviews for Google+ were generally positive. Among those enamored with it were TechCrunch’s MG Siegler, ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick, social media guru Robert Scoble, and the Huffington Post’s Craig Kanalley (though he wondered about Google’s timing). It quickly began sending TechCrunch loads of traffic, and social media marketer Chris Brogan brainstormed 50 ways Google+ could influence the rest of the web.

At the same time, there was some skepticism about its Circles function: TechCrunch’s Siegler wondered whether people would use it as intended, and ReadWriteWeb’s Sarah Perez said they might not be equipped to handle complicated, changing relationships. In a smart piece, marketing exec A.J. Kohn said Circles marks an old-fashioned form of sharing. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, meanwhile, said Circles look great, but they aren’t going to be much use until there’s a critical mass of people to put in them.

Google+ and the news: This being a journalism blog, we’re most interested in Google+ for what it means for news. As Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman pointed out, the aspect of Google+ that seems to have the most potential is its Sparks feature, which allows users to collect recommended news around a specific term or phrase. Former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee said Sparks could fill a valuable niche for news organizations in between Facebook and Twitter — sort of a more customizable, less awkward RSS. The University of Missouri’s KOMU-TV has already used it in a live broadcast, and Breaking News’ Cory Bergman gave a few valuable lessons from that organization’s first week on Google+.

CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis gave his thoughts on a few potential uses for news: It could be very useful for collaboration and promotion, but not so much for live coverage. Journalism.co.uk’s Sarah Marshall listed several of the same uses, plus interviewing and “as a Facebook for your tweeps.” Sonderman suggested a few changes to Google+ to make it even more news-friendly, including allowing news org pages and improving the Sparks search and filtering. Still, he saw it as a valuable addition to the online news consumption landscape: “It’s a serendipity engine, and if executed well it could make Google+ an addictive source of news discovery.”

A bit of Google+-related miscellany before we move on: Social media marketer Christopher Penn gave some tips on measuring Google+, author Neil Strauss condemned the growing culture of Facebook “Likes” (and now Google +1s), and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram offered a rebuttal.

Murdoch kills News of the World: In one of the most surprising media-related moves of the year, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. suddenly shut down one of its most prominent properties, the 168-year-old British tabloid News of the World, on Thursday. The decision stemmed from a long-running scandal involving NotW investigators who illegally hacked into the phones of celebrities. This week, the Guardian reported that the hacking extended to the voicemail of a murdered 13-year-old girl and possibly the families of dead soldiers, and that the paper’s editor, Rebekah Brooks (now the head of News Corp. in Britain) was informed of some of the hacking.

Facing an advertising boycott and Parliamentary opposition, Murdoch’s son, James, announced News of the World will close this weekend. (The Guardian has the definitive blow-by-blow of Thursday’s events.) It was a desperate move, and as the New York Times, paidContent, and many on Twitter noted, it was almost certainly an attempt to keep the scandal’s collateral damage away from Murdoch’s proposed BSkyB merger, which was put on hold and possible in jeopardy this week.

Though the closing left hundreds of suddenly out-of-work employees, it may prove less damaging in the big picture for News Corp. than you might expect. NotW only published on Sundays, and it’s widely suspected that its sister tabloid, the Sun, will simply expand to include a Sunday edition to cover for its absence. As one Guardian editor stated, the move may simply allow News Corp. to streamline its operation and save cash, and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds called it a smart business move. (Its stock rose after the announcement.)

There’s plenty that has yet to play out, as media analyst Ken Doctor noted: The Guardian pointed out how evasive James Murdoch’s closing letter was, and Slate’s Jack Shafer said the move was intended to “scatter and confuse the audience.” Brooks, the one that many thought would take the fall for the scandal, is still around, and the investigation is ongoing, with more arrests being made today. According to The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta and CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis, though, the buck stops with Rupert himself and the culture he created, and the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum said the story has revealed just how cozy Murdoch is with the powerful in the U.K.

Making journalism easier on Twitter: Twitter has been reaching out to journalists for quite some time now through a media blog, but last week it took things a step further and launched Twitter for Newsrooms, a journalist’s guide to using Twitter, with tips on reporting, making conversation, and promoting content. The Lab’s Justin Ellis gave a quick glimpse into the rationale behind the project.

A few people were skeptical: TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis suspected that Twitter’s preaching to the choir, arguing that for the journalists who come across Twitter for Newsrooms, Twitter already is a newsroom. The Journal Register’s Steve Buttry called it “more promotional than helpful,” and suggested some other Twitter primers for journalists. Ad Age’s Matthew Creamer added a tongue-in-cheek guide to releasing your anger on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Lab’s Megan Garber reported on the ideas of NPR and Andy Carvin for improving Twitter’s functionality for reporting, including a kind of real-time influence and credibility score for Twitter sources, and a journalism-oriented meme-tracking tool for developing stories.

Mobile media and tablet users, profiled: There were several studies released in the past two weeks that are worth noting, starting with Pew’s report on e-reader and tablet users. Pew found that e-reader ownership is booming, having doubled in six months. The Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran reasoned that e-readers are ahead of tablets right now primarily because they’re so much cheaper, and offered ideas for news organizations to take advantage of the explosion of e-reader users.

Three other studies related to tablets and mobile media: One study found that a third of tablet users said it’s leading them to read print newspapers and magazines less often; another showed that people are reading more on digital media than we think, and mostly in browsers; and a third gave us more evidence that games are still king among mobile apps.

Reading roundup: Bunches of good stuff to look through from the past two weeks. I’ll go through it quickly:

— Turns out the “digital first” move announced last month by the Guardian also includes the closing of the international editions of the Guardian and Observer. Jeff Jarvis explained what digital first means, but Suw Charman-Anderson questioned the wisdom the Guardian’s strategy. The Lab’s Ken Doctor analyzed the economics of the Guardian’s situation, as well as the Mail and the BBC’s.

— This week in AOL/Huffington Post news: Business Insider revealed some leaked lackluster traffic numbers for Patch sites, and reported that Patch is undergoing a HuffPo-ization. That prompted Judy Sims and Slate’s Jack Shafer to be the latest to rip into Patch’s business model, and Shafer followed up to address rebuttals about non-Patch hyperlocal news.

— Google+ was the only interesting Google-related news over the past two weeks: The Lab’s Megan Garber wrote about Google’s bid to transform mobile ads, potential new directions for Google News, and Google highlighting individual authors in search returns. The New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan also wrote on Google’s ongoing war on “nonsense” content.

— A couple of paywall notes: The Times of London reported that it has 100,000 subscribers a year after its paywall went up, and Dorian Benkoil said the New York Times’ plan is working well, the Lab’s Megan Garber wrote about the Times adding a “share your access” offer to print subscribers.

— Three practical posts for journalists: Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman has tips for successful news aggregation and personalized news delivery, and British j-prof Paul Bradshaw reported on his experience running his blog through a Facebook Page for a month.

— And three bigger-picture pieces to think on: Wetpaint’s Ben Elowitz on the shrinking of the non-Facebook web, former Guardian digital editor Emily Bell on the U.S.’ place within the global media ecosystem, and Paul Bradshaw on the new inverted pyramid of data journalism.

July 07 2011

19:53

Nick Davies on phone hacking, Murdoch and News of the World: it is a story about the power elite

Guardian :: The News of the World, or NOTW, is to close, James Murdoch has announced.  It follows a series of revelations that the paper illegally hacked into phones, and amid calls for Rebekah Brooks to resign. In this video from The Guardian the investigative journalist Nick Davies talks on how the phone-hacking scandal has escalated, leading to News of the World's announced closure.

[Nick Davies at 09:19, video below] To me it is not a story about a journalist behaving badly. It is a story about the power elite. It is about the most powerful news organization in the world. It is about the most powerful police force in the country. It is about the most powerful party in the country and for good measure it is about the press complaints commission. And about they all spontaneously colluded together, to make everybody's life easier. About the way the casually assumed that the law didn't apply to them ...

Nick Davies is a British investigative journalist, writer and documentary maker. He has written extensively as a freelancer, as well as for The Guardian and The Observer, and been named Journalist of the Year, Reporter of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year at the British Press Awards.[Source: Wikipedia]

Published on Thursday 7 July 2011

Original post - video here Cameron Robertson and Anne Backhaus, www.guardian.co.uk

June 27 2011

04:36

Which UK news sites post the most stories? Do more stories lead to more visitors?

paidContent :: May 2011, The Telegraph posted the 1,099 stories on Thursday. But do more stories lead to more eyeballs? New data shows which publishers are churning out most articles - but is the strategy working? paidContent provides with interactive charts to hover and click in order to explore the data …

[Robert Andrews:] Story volume does correlate with audience size, but not universally. Although Telegraph.co.uk publishes more stories than anyone (not including its blogs), it ranks third for audience size.

Continue to read Robert Andrews, paidcontent.co.uk

June 17 2011

06:08

Guardian's digital-first is in fact a "no-choice" strategy: out of cash in 3-5 years?

The Telegraph :: GNM's "Digital-first" is more precisely a strategy to cut costs. Guardian News and Media (GNM) is to axe dozens of staff after it revealed it lost £33m (€37.6m) in the last financial year. The company, which is owned by Guardian Media Group and backed by charitable foundation The Scott Trust, plans to make £25m (€28.5m) of savings over the next five years and to prioritise digital over print.

GMG declined to put a figure on the number of jobs set to go in the next wave of redundancies but it is thought it could be as high as 175. Chief executive Andrew Miller told staff in a series of briefings yesterday that the group could run out of cash in three to five years unless it underwent a "major transformation".

Continue to read www.telegraph.co.uk

05:36

Guardian's major digital-first transformation: publisher staffs up planned U.S. website

Yahoo News | The Cutline :: The Guardian is in the process of putting together the team that will steer its forthcoming U.S. website, which the U.K. broadsheet's parent company hopes to have up and running by the fall. Starting next month, four editorial hands, "a few techies and a few promotional people" from The Guardian's London headquarters will start recruiting the New York-based staff, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger told The Cutline by phone Thursday.

Continue to read Joe Pompeo, news.yahoo.com

June 12 2011

15:43

Journalism students, blog to get a job in the market

The Next Web | TNW :: The growing list of student bloggers who have found their way into good ‘pro’ jobs also includes Hannah Waldram, who founded the Bournville Village blog, ended up taking to professional local blogging as the Cardiff ‘beatblogger‘ for The Guardian’s now mothballed Local project before becoming a community coordinator for the same newspaper, and Dave Lee, who founded The Linc newspaper and website in his university town of Lincoln before moving on to a varied career that currently sees him covering technology news for the BBC.

Martin Bryant: So, is blogging the perfect way for student journalists to get a foot on the ladder?

[Paul Bradshaw:] It’s definitely something I’ve been encouraging my students to do for a few years now.

Continue to read thenextweb.com

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