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May 21 2013

15:00

Tuesday Q&A: CEO Baba Shetty talks Newsweek’s relaunch, user-first design, magazineness, and the business model

A brand guru. That’s what they called Baba Shetty when he was hired away from advertising agency Hill Holliday by The Daily Beast to be the new CEO of The Newsweek Daily Beast Company.

1348078198601.cachedLess than a month later, the company announced that Newsweek was putting an end to its print edition and going all-digital. Last week, Shetty released the beta version of the relaunched website, a simple, colorful, responsive, and easily navigable new home for the decades-old news brand.

Shetty began working with the magazine on a “Mad Men”-themed issue on retro advertising back in March 2012. So maybe it’s not surprising that the new site’s first feature article is an exploration of what makes contemporary television so addictive. Shetty has big plans for capitalizing on on the historically respected Newsweek name, blending a New York Times-like metered paywall approach with an ambitious sponsorship model that will see a lot of creative ad work coming off the Newsweek desk.

On Monday, Shetty and I spoke about how he sees that plan unfolding, as well as some of his favorite new design features, bringing classic Newsweek covers into the digital space, and why ad agencies should act more like newsrooms. Here’s our conversation:

O’Donovan: So let’s start with the redesign! Congrats, first of all — very exciting.
Shetty: Oh, thank you.
O’Donovan: I’m curious, first, who you were looking to for inspiration with the redesign and what your major goals were.
Shetty: The audience is a combination of the people who’ve always looked to Newsweek for its sense of authority, its sense of editorial authority and its stature — its ability to offer perspective on the happenings in the world. But we also wanted to really innovate around the narrative formats for longform publishing on the web.

The real story of the Newsweek relaunch is that it allowed us to think about innovation in a way that really hasn’t happened much for professional journalism. Actually, there’s been a ton of innovation in microblogging and other formats — look at the Tumblr news from the last couple days. Enormous value from thinking about beautiful user experience for content consumption.

But really, a lot of the professional editorial products kind of slavishly follow a set of conventions that are all about maximizing pageviews. You look at a long article that might require seven clicks and page reloads to get through — and then there’s a lot of display advertising that is competing for attention with the actual content. We thought there was an opportunity to do for professional journalism what Tumblr and Pinterest and Flipboard, so many of the other innovative new startups, have done for other kinds of content.

So what we see with Newsweek is the user first. I’ve been talking about it as user-first publishing. The idea is, let’s deconstruct the sense of magazineness — not as a physical thing, but as a concept. The sense of magazineness is about a beautiful user experience. You think about your favorite magazine and sitting in your favorite chair at home and reading it — there’s a sense of editorial coherence. You know — the cover communicates a sense of editorial priority, there’s a table of contents that lends a sense of coherence to the issue. It’s a beautiful package that results.

But when magazines go digital, so much of that’s lost because of the conventions I talked about before — you slice and dice content into the slivers that we call pageviews, and it’s not a very satisfying experience to read professional journalism on the web.

So we really wanted to take a leap forward with Newsweek. In addition to the idea of the editorial stature and credibility of Newsweek, also creating a radically creative user experience around that content. I can talk about a few of the features if you think that would be useful.

O’Donovan: Yes, but I’m still curious about other projects, other sites, other redesigns, that you might have taken something from, or tried to emulate at all. Or maybe this is a ground zero thing. But for example, The New Republic’s redesign, or maybe Quartz — is there a trend?
Shetty: There really weren’t — we didn’t really emulate anything. What we were trying to do was stay true to Newsweek and what the ideal user experience would be.

The cover — there actually is a cover, and it was static in the first issue, and in future issues it will be interactive, video-based multimedia. It’s this idea of drawing a reader in to something that has great editorial to prominence and priority, and we’re going to explore what the cover could be in the digital age. There is a persistent table of contents which is available to you at any part of the experience, and that lends a sense of completeness and coherence to this experience.

O’Donovan: Yeah, the table of contents gives an element of navigability — it helps you understand the fullness of the product.
Shetty: Exactly. It’s persistent. No matter where you are, in an article or on a page, when you mouse over the window, the table of contents dissolves into view, and you can access it. So there’s a sense of, again, an ideal concept of magazineness, and part of it is this sense of complete control over the content consumption experience. So we thought, we’d love to make that real in a natively digital format.

Of course, we took account of all the devices that people read on now, so the site is fully responsive and looks beautiful on a handset or tablet screen or — you should really try it on a 23-inch monitor. It’s gorgeous in large format screens. It gracefully apportions itself to whatever the screen happens to be.

O’Donovan: What would you say, right now, the focus is on in mobile, in building apps? I feel like there’s this turn back towards building cross-platform websites and away from apps. Where did apps fall into your priorities when you started compared to where you are now?
Shetty: Yes, you’re exactly right. I think 18 months ago, everybody was talking about native apps as absolutely the way to go. But there’s a lot of friction in the app experience, and what I mean by that is apps have to be downloaded, apps have to be used and accessed on a regular basis, apps sometimes make it a little more difficult to share content. People are sometimes not as adept at sharing content via apps as they are across the open web. So for us, it’s about giving consumers a choice. We’re going to parallel-path for a while — we’ll also have a Newsweek app available. But the open web launch we did last week we think is actually a beautiful experience across devices. It’s friction-free — there’s nothing to download, there’s nothing that prevents easy sharing. So it’s designed to kind of be — I don’t want to say post-app, but it’s post- the initial way of publishing thinking, that native apps are the only way to go. I think a well designed, thoughtfully engineered open web experience can be terrific for the user.
O’Donovan: You mentioned building an interactive cover page earlier — I’d be interested in knowing what other kinds of engagement you’re interested in building across the site. How did you think about structuring comments? How do you want people to respond to the site?
Shetty: We thought a lot about socially driven content, and if you actually look at an article called “The Way They Hook Us — For 13 Hours Straight,” which is about longform, binge-viewing, addictive TV shows — you know, “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” et cetera — if you look at that story, you can see how we handle social. Instead of having commentary being a thing that is relegated to the bottom of the page, there’s a set of functionality on the left side margin that moves along with the story. Right now, there’s 2,100 opinions listed — it’s a way to kind of over time have the idea that engagement opportunities are persistently available, no matter where you are reading these stories — it’s not just a thing that’s relegated ot the boot of a page. There’s a tray that actually slides out to reveal the social features. And there’s a lot of innovation we have planned in that area as well.

And while we’re talking about a long article page, you can kind of see the ability to use multimedia photography, video, infographics to help the journalistic storytelling of a longform piece. That’s another, I think, terrific step forward. It’s not the tyranny of the pageview, it’s not the conventions that are going to deliver more advertising properties — it’s thinking about he user first. What’s going to make for a great reading experience? in that way, I think it differs from a lot of the conventions that are in play across the web.

O’Donovan: So this is my understanding having read a couple things, so correct me if I’m wrong — but your strategy is first to build this product that people are going to want, and then slowly to introduce a paywall, and then later this sponsored content component. Can you explain how you see that unfolding and over what kind of timeline?
Shetty: I can talk a little bit about it — I probably can’t talk about all of our plans right now.

The metered access is going to be rolled out fairly soon, and that’s just the simple idea that, look, anybody can read any article on Newsweek, and initially that’s completely open and completely free. But only subscribers will be able to consume content over a certain number of articles. So it’s very similar to what The New York Times and others have done. Open access — we want a lot of social sharing, we want a lot of visibility of the content across the open web. But what we’re asking is, if people consume over a certain amount of content, that they subscribe. And that’s going to take place fairly soon.

The second question is how brands can participate. We have the same principles we’ve been talking about — thinking about the user first — applied to brand participation. What we’re going to do is limit the clutter — relatively few units, but really high impact — but stay with the design aesthetic of the site overall. They’re going to be beautiful, unignorable, but the value exchange with the reader is going to be very appropriate.

When you listen to a program on NPR, and there’s a sponsorship message before the program starts, you can kind of say, okay, well, I get that. I get how that works. It’s a reasonable exchange between the audience and the brand that sponsors the content. That’s really the model. It’s not as much about the standards of display advertising that have dominated the discussion on the web. It’s a sponsorship model — a different direction.

O’Donovan: From a structural standpoint, in terms of building the sponsorship and how closely married they may be to the content you have, I’m curious if it’s going to be an internal team and how closely they’ll work with the editorial team, or if it’s someone from outside. How does that all work?
Shetty: Oh, it’s all part of one organization in our company, and it’s a close partnership between the editorial and business sides.
O’Donovan: I was just reading earlier, you wrote, along with someone else, a piece for the Harvard Business Review about how advertising companies should act more like newsrooms. I was hoping you could explain that theory and maybe, I’d be curious to know if that was an idea that started to percolate for you having been in a newsroom for a little while.
Shetty: It actually started percolating for me well before I came into a newsroom. I think it actually a pretty clear direction that has been well represented by a lot of people. There’s a real opportunity for smart brands to publish content that’s useful, interesting, engaging, and helpful to their audience. It’s not a new idea — in fact I always talk about the fact that it’s an idea that’s been around for a very long time.

But what’s changed is all the tools that are available for content creation, distribution, measurement and all the channels that are available to brands. I think it’s a very powerful idea. I don’t think it’s one of these trend-of-the-season ideas. I think it’s a dramatic industry shift that we’re going to be tracking for years to come, through various iterations.

That was something I did with Jerry Wind, head of the Future of Advertising Program at Wharton. It was really based on the Wharton 2020 Project, which was asking a lot of advertisers about what they think about the future of advertising, and it was such a consistent theme — that it’s going to be less and less about what we think of advertising today, and more content that is voluntarily consumed by people because they view it as in some way useful or interesting.

O’Donovan: As we continue to see this trend toward sponsored content and cooperation between advertisers and news brands, I’m curious what your advice might be to other people who are following a path similar to yours — coming from the ad side and moving into newsroom, operating as the person who is trying to bring those two things together. Are there any specific challenges or surprises there? How would you tell someone to pursue that?
Shetty: I would just say think about the user first, and by the way, think about editorial standards. It doesn’t serve anyone to have editorial standards compromised. Users don’t want that, the consumer doesn’t want that, and certainly it doesn’t benefit the editorial side of things either. Nobody wants that. I think full transparency and good judgment are critical here.
O’Donovan: How do you telegraph that to the reader?
Shetty: Well, we don’t really — we haven’t really had any issues with telegraphing that. It’s just kind of clearly indicating where, what the source of a particular piece of content is. I think as long as you maintain these kind of standards, there really aren’t issues.
O’Donovan: And in terms of the user-centric experience you’re trying to build — you’re talking about how modern newsrooms have so many different kinds of metrics available to them now — when I hear people talk about building new products like this, they talk about building something light and flexible, and prototyping it so you can really respond to the audience’s initial reaction to it. I’d be curious to know how you’re tracking that, how you’re listening to the reader, and what kind of flexibility you’ve been able to build into the product.
Shetty: Absolutely. The iterative nature of web design development — or I should say, digital design development — is a terrific kind of approach for designing something that users really love and respond to. For us, it’s tools like Chartbeat, which we love, and other kind of leading-edge ways of getting real moment-to-moment feedback from not only what people are reading, but how they’re spending time with it, where they’re coming from, what kind of engagement they have with it. It’s all fed right back to the design and development process.

It’s a long way from the days of just building it and they will come. It’s really paying such close attention to what people actually respond to.

April 08 2013

14:43

Getting personal: A Dutch online news platform wants you to subscribe to individual journalists

“It’s my own little shop, that’s what I like about it. You decide what goes in — like having your own newspaper.”

Arnold Karskens has his own channel on Dutch news startup De Nieuwe Pers (The New Press). For €1.79 a month, readers can subscribe to him and read his war reporting and investigations into war criminals. Don’t care about war crimes? Maybe some of the other journalist-driven channels — on subjects from games to France, from the science of sex to environmental sustainability, from Germany to the euro crisis — would be of interest.

De Nieuwe Pers recently launched in the Netherlands as an online platform for freelance journalists. Users pay €4.49 a month for access to all content on its app or website. But what stands out is the possibility to subscribe to individual reporters, for €1.79 a month. Think True/Slant, but with paywalls.

de-nieuwe-pers-authors

“News has become more personal,” Alain van der Horst, editor in chief of De Nieuwe Pers, told me. “People are interested in the opinions, the beliefs, the revelations of a certain journalist they know and trust, much more than an anonymous person who writes for a large publication.”

Karskens concurs, stressing that a personal brand is key in this business model. “People read my stuff because I have a clear, crystalized opinion based on over 32 years of war correspondence,” he said. “This really works well for journalists with a distinctive character. It’s not for the average desk slave.”

Van der Horst also thinks paying per journalist is fairer to the readers than subscribing to a publication as a whole. “When you subscribe to a newspaper, you’ll get the full package. Even if you always throw out the sports section, you’ll still get it. With this model you decide: ‘This is what I want to read, so I’ll pay for it — what I don’t read, I don’t pay for.’”

The metaphor isn’t perfect — rather than paying for content on a specific subject, De Nieuwe Pers invites readers to pay by the journalist. Authors have full editorial control over their own channel (“as long as it’s legal,” van der Horst says). Though of all them state a thematic or geographic specialism, those aren’t binding and there are no posting quotas. With this freedom comes unpredictability for the readers — the bang they get for their buck depends on which journalists they subscribe to.

“I do investigative journalism, so sometimes I won’t be able to publish something for a week, sometimes two weeks,” Karskens says. “By subscribing to me personally, people support this type of investigation.”

Until the end of 2013, journalists will receive the full revenue generated by their channels, which includes in-app purchases through Apple’s App Store. Next year, De Nieuwe Pers will start collecting a 25 percent commission. They already take a quarter from the collective subscriptions, with the rest of the money divided among the individual contributors.

In its first few weeks, De Nieuwe Pers has sold about 2,000 subscriptions — about 40 percent of them for channels, the rest for the full collection. (The balance was 20/80 in the very beginning after launch.) The platform wasn’t building its following from scratch, strictly. It’s the descendant of De Pers, a free print newspaper that went out of business in March 2012. Much of De Nieuwe Pers’ editorial staff came from De Pers.

“After we shut down, we got a lot of attention, and readers were telling us they’d be willing to pay for us,” van der Horst said. “It’s encouraging to know that people will pay for digital journalistic work. People often still doubt that, and in many places it’s not yet customary. But it works. People do it as long as they get value for money.”

Though director Jan-Jaap Heij says 2,000 subscribers has De Nieuwe Pers meeting internal targets for 2013, it doesn’t take mathematical genius to figure out it’s not enough to support 17 journalists and a small editorial staff. (At current rates and revenue split, those 2,000 subscribers would generate somewhere north of $100,000 a year.) In the short term, Heij isn’t worried about the money; the company managed to sell some of the technology they developed, and because of its low costs, the bills are covered until late 2014. The authors themselves are free to publish their work elsewhere. “Maybe one or two contributors will get a reasonable income out of this in a year, but for the near future, that’s not our ambition,” said Heij.

For now, Heij’s main goal is further product development. De Nieuwe Pers is set to introduce thematic bundles and a bundle of bundles — the platform’s version of a full newspaper. They’re also expanding their pool of journalists, to cover more themes.

Karskens is the only author who chose to write exclusively for De Nieuwe Pers, and enjoys the freedom of maintaining his channel. “You can be much more personal to your readers,” he said. “They’ve become like friends.” But he says there is one drawback: “Never being able to take a holiday. There’s always the pressure of having to give something to my subscribers.”

April 18 2012

13:51

In the Age of Social Media, the Customer Really Is King

The following is a guest column by Kevin O'Connor, the president of User Insight, a user experience strategy firm.

The idea of putting customers first is not a new one. In fact, it was the start of the 20th century when Harry Gordon Selfridge coined the phrase "The customer is always right."

But customers have never been as powerful as they are today in the social media age.

The potential damage that can be done to a reputation on social media raises the stakes higher than they've ever been. A new era means new ways to collaborate with and serve valuable customers. It's time for companies to stretch beyond customer satisfaction surveys and stop relying on demographic research to determine how their brands should interact with their customers. It's time to start talking to customers, one on one, in order to understand who they are and how to wow them with a product or service.

Today, more and more companies realize they must spend time and effort to really get to know their customers. If one person has a bad experience, news travels at lightning-fast speed. They will post their woes to their friends, contacts and Twitter followers.

"If we knew someone had 50,000 Twitter followers, our call centers would escalate their call for support," someone once told me.

That's certainly understanding the power of social media, but the goal should be larger: to make sure the customer experience is as good as it can possibly be to avoid all complaints in the first place, whether public or private.

the case of Qwikster

Netflix clearly underestimated its customers last year when it announced it would rename its DVD-distribution service Qwikster. Creating separate charges for DVDs and streaming video would almost double prices. Plus, a high schooler already owned the Twitter handle @Qwikster, indicating even worse foresight.

The day Netflix announced Qwikster, online conversations spiked almost 300 percent. Seventy percent of the chatter was negative when emotion was tied to the posts. Netflix stock dropped 20 percent. $2 billion in value evaporated in eight hours. Hundreds of thousands of subscribers canceled their service. The customers had spoken -- Netflix abandoned the idea, and the CEO apologized.

On the flip side, if consumers love a product, store, brand or experience, they will shout it out into their vast digital networks. Take for example, musician Tommee Profitt, whose love for Target led him to record a music video using his iPhone 4S.

A new take on 'user experience'

Since today's customer truly is king, with powerful communication tools right at their fingertips, companies have to pay more attention to the overall "user experiences" they are creating for people. User experience, or UX, is a broad term used to describe all aspects of a person's experience with a system or brand.

User experience research and testing helps companies "put the customer first" in all aspects of their businesses.

In today's many-to-many world, consumers group themselves, especially online, largely based on values, interests and aspirations -- not by sex, race and age. In this scenario, companies must understand their consumers' behaviors and motivators -- the why behind their actions.

An example: A company in the financial services industry came to my firm, User Insight, to get to know its customers better. Based on the demographic and segmentation information, this client believed that people chose banks according to life stage. After spending hours one on one, in consumers' homes, interviewing them on how they choose a bank, we discovered that it wasn't about their sex, age, race or stage of life at all. Instead, we found three groups based on values and behaviors: customers who preferred to bank online, those who like a branch nearby, and those who want a banker who knows them by name and handles their complex finances.

Getting insights from the customers who will actually use the product at the end of the day allows a company to focus on the core experience these customers are looking for. It's not about "if" someone can use a product; it's about "will" they use the product. The key today is serving up the right content at the right time in the right way. Consumers have many ways to interact with a brand; understanding how they want to do that will make the brand successful.

Smart companies should be willing to seek out and accept the tough love they need to serve consumers and manage change well. They also need the right people to guide them who are passionate, pleasant and collaborative. Putting time and effort into quality user experience research can mean healthier businesses, happier customers, and fewer reputation-flaying diatribes online. Because in today's social media age, user experience matters.

Kevin O'Connor is president of User Insight, a user experience strategy firm providing research and consulting to more than 300 clients in 25 different industries. User Insight, an Inc. 5000 firm, is headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.

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August 01 2011

20:00

“A great story to tell to advertisers”: How TPM increased its ad sales revenue 88 percent from last year

This June, Talking Points Memo had the biggest ad sales month in its eleven-year history, closing out a half-year period that saw ad sales revenue grow 88 percent over the same period in 2010.

First of all: Yowza. Second of all, though: That number, while big, isn’t entirely out of left field. “We’ve been growing at double-digit — sometimes approaching triple-digit — growth ever since we started our direct-sales ad program,” TPM’s founder/editor/publisher, Josh Marshall, told me. So while the 88 percent stat is a record, and “we love that number,” he notes, it’s also “not dramatically different from what we’ve had in previous years.”

Still, though, it’s worth a moment of pause. Because here is a web-native news organization that started as, you know, Some Guy’s Blog and that is now able to sustain itself — actually, grow itself — based on digital ad revenue. At a time when many news publishers are struggling in a sea of digital dimes, TPM, it seems, is finding a way to turn those dimes into dollars.

Marshall attributes the success largely to TPM’s organizational double-down on direct ad sales. In 2009, as it expanded its presence in D.C., the site — which had previously relied on networks like Blogads to support its operations — began investing in in-house advertising efforts, bringing on a sales VP and taking advantage of TPM’s famously loyal user base to make a compelling pitch to advertisers. And at higher CPMs.

“The big thing is really talented people doing the sales,” Marshall says.

And another thing is time: Ad sales are about relationships, and cultivating them can’t happen overnight. The real growth of TPM’s ad sales numbers really “started to kick in after we’d had some time to tell the advertisers about the site, about the value proposition of advertising with us,” Marshall notes.

And a big part of that proposition is the thing that advertisers are actually buying when they sign on with TPM: the TPM audience, the collective of dedicated (and also, generally: affluent, educated, influential) people whose eyeballs advertisers generally want to reach. Advertisers so far have included big national brands like Toyota, BP, HBO, Goldman Sachs, and CVS; media outlets like Current TV, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal; and organizations like Harvard Business School, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the Association of American Railroads, the American Council of Life Insurers, and the Obama 2012 Re-Election Campaign. (That last group is a big part of TPM’s ad strategy, particularly for its D.C.-based audience. The advocacy market tends to have deep pockets — and “everybody wants to have their story told to the people who are calling the shots, who live in D.C.,” Marshall points out.)

But TPM’s readership isn’t limited to the District (indeed, this has been a pretty good month to remind us that Washington news is national news), and part of TPM’s pitch is that its audience nationwide is particularly engaged with its content and mission. (And also, again: affluent, educated, influential.)

And that’s evidenced in part by an annual reader survey that TPM conducts, consisting of over 30 questions, asking readers to send TPM data about themselves and their reading habits. TPM’s 2011 survey was introduced with a quick request for completion from Marshall; it was live for 24 hours; and it received, Marshall told me, some 26,000 completed results.

Again: Yowza.

So TPM offers not just a quality audience, in terms of the demographics advertisers like, but also a highly — even hyper- — engaged one. Readers often visit TPM multiple times a day. They trust it. They consider themselves, often quite literally, to be a part of it. Because of all that, Marshall says, “we have a great story to tell to advertisers.”

It’s a story, sure, that’s a fairly unique one in today’s news environment. Political coverage of the depth and intensity TPM offers may lend itself to reader engagement; it’s also hard to duplicate, though, especially at more general-interest publications. But as news outlets big and small, general-interest and niche, consider their futures, TPM’s experience can be instructive — not only editorially, but also financially. There are basically two TPMs: There’s TPM, the new media visionary and crowdsourcing pioneer and Polk Award winner and “prototype of what the successful Web-based news organization is likely to be in the future“; and then there’s TPM, the scrappy startup that is trying to make a viable business of web-native political reporting. TPM’s ad-sales success suggests the tantalizing possibility that, even in today’s murky media environment, TPM 1 and TPM 2 can actually be the same thing.

June 27 2011

14:30

Branding: Should journalists build a personal brand?

If you’re teaching journalism today, you must be aware of the discussion that surrounds branding.

If you’re a young journalist, or someone planning to enter the field of journalism, you need to understand what personal branding means.

On June 23, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote about this, and in summary, he said it’s a bunch of hooey. However, being an intelligent person, he also makes a very good point:

When I was a hungry young reporter … [my goals were]: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. 3) Get doe-eyed young women to lean in close and whisper, “Take me.”

Note the order. First came the work.

Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.” That’s because we know that, in this frenetic fight for eyeballs at all costs, the attribute that is most rewarded is screeching ubiquity, not talent.

It’s very important that new or would-be journalists take Weingarten’s point to heart. There won’t be anything to be branded unless you have some substance to market, and that means much more than a talent for writing glibly. Lots of people have such a talent. Many of them spend their lives writing for an audience of one.

“The work” is just that — work — and as part of the work, you have to get off Facebook and go outside and speak to real live people. You have to read, widely and voraciously. You have to be curious about those who live in skins other than your own. You have to learn what makes a good story and how to tell a good story well.

Journalism educator Owen Youngman put it this way:

[E]ffective personal branding turns out to be less about self-promotion and social networks than it is about accuracy, fairness and credibility. Whether the subject is a blogger in Portland, or a newspaper reporter in Kankakee, or a TV anchor in Florida, it turns out that the work creates the brand, and the brand then helps people find more of the work.

If you don’t like the word brand, you can substitute reputation. The reason we talk about this more today than anyone did back in the 1970s when Weingarten was starting his journalism career is that the pace and reach of journalism have changed quite a bit since then. Today someone who’s looking for a stringer to cover events in a hot zone might well turn to Google — and will that employer be able to find you?

Veteran journalist Steve Buttry responded to Weingarten’s column with this:

[B]randing starts with quality and hard work. But lots of outstanding journalists who did the hard work are losing their jobs. They are losing their jobs mostly because their industry has failed to develop new business models and new revenue streams in a period of disruption. But some of those journalists are losing their jobs or struggling to find new ones, in part, because they failed to show their value to their employers and their communities. Personal branding is about showing your value. It starts with quality and hard work, but if you don’t show the value, you can become undervalued. (Emphasis mine.)

That is the lesson new and would-be journalists need to learn so that they can make it in today’s media ecosystem.

Branding isn’t hooey — but it’s also not a shortcut to fame and admiration.

Related post: Journalists must build a personal brand: 10 tips

If you’re teaching journalism today, you must be aware of the discussion that surrounds branding.

If you’re a young journalist, or someone planning to enter the field of journalism, you need to understand what personal branding means.

On June 23, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote about this, and in summary, he said it’s a bunch of hooey. However, being an intelligent person, he also makes a very good point:

When I was a hungry young reporter … [my goals were]: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. 3) Get doe-eyed young women to lean in close and whisper, “Take me.”

Note the order. First came the work.

Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.” That’s because we know that, in this frenetic fight for eyeballs at all costs, the attribute that is most rewarded is screeching ubiquity, not talent.

It’s very important that new or would-be journalists take Weingarten’s point to heart. There won’t be anything to be branded unless you have some substance to market, and that means much more than a talent for writing glibly. Lots of people have such a talent. Many of them spend their lives writing for an audience of one.

“The work” is just that — work — and as part of the work, you have to get off Facebook and go outside and speak to real live people. You have to read, widely and voraciously. You have to be curious about those who live in skins other than your own. You have to learn what makes a good story and how to tell a good story well.

Journalism educator Owen Youngman put it this way:

[E]ffective personal branding turns out to be less about self-promotion and social networks than it is about accuracy, fairness and credibility. Whether the subject is a blogger in Portland, or a newspaper reporter in Kankakee, or a TV anchor in Florida, it turns out that the work creates the brand, and the brand then helps people find more of the work.

If you don’t like the word brand, you can substitute reputation. The reason we talk about this more today than anyone did back in the 1970s when Weingarten was starting his journalism career is that the pace and reach of journalism have changed quite a bit since then. Today someone who’s looking for a stringer to cover events in a hot zone might well turn to Google — and will that employer be able to find you?

Veteran journalist Steve Buttry responded to Weingarten’s column with this:

[B]randing starts with quality and hard work. But lots of outstanding journalists who did the hard work are losing their jobs. They are losing their jobs mostly because their industry has failed to develop new business models and new revenue streams in a period of disruption. But some of those journalists are losing their jobs or struggling to find new ones, in part, because they failed to show their value to their employers and their communities. Personal branding is about showing your value. It starts with quality and hard work, but if you don’t show the value, you can become undervalued. (Emphasis mine.)

That is the lesson new and would-be journalists need to learn so that they can make it in today’s media ecosystem.

Branding isn’t hooey — but it’s also not a shortcut to fame and admiration.

Related post: Journalists must build a personal brand: 10 tips

14:30

Branding: Should journalists build a personal brand?

If you’re teaching journalism today, you must be aware of the discussion that surrounds branding.

If you’re a young journalist, or someone planning to enter the field of journalism, you need to understand what personal branding means.

On June 23, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote about this, and in summary, he said it’s a bunch of hooey. However, being an intelligent person, he also makes a very good point:

When I was a hungry young reporter … [my goals were]: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. 3) Get doe-eyed young women to lean in close and whisper, “Take me.”

Note the order. First came the work.

Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.” That’s because we know that, in this frenetic fight for eyeballs at all costs, the attribute that is most rewarded is screeching ubiquity, not talent.

It’s very important that new or would-be journalists take Weingarten’s point to heart. There won’t be anything to be branded unless you have some substance to market, and that means much more than a talent for writing glibly. Lots of people have such a talent. Many of them spend their lives writing for an audience of one.

“The work” is just that — work — and as part of the work, you have to get off Facebook and go outside and speak to real live people. You have to read, widely and voraciously. You have to be curious about those who live in skins other than your own. You have to learn what makes a good story and how to tell a good story well.

Journalism educator Owen Youngman put it this way:

[E]ffective personal branding turns out to be less about self-promotion and social networks than it is about accuracy, fairness and credibility. Whether the subject is a blogger in Portland, or a newspaper reporter in Kankakee, or a TV anchor in Florida, it turns out that the work creates the brand, and the brand then helps people find more of the work.

If you don’t like the word brand, you can substitute reputation. The reason we talk about this more today than anyone did back in the 1970s when Weingarten was starting his journalism career is that the pace and reach of journalism have changed quite a bit since then. Today someone who’s looking for a stringer to cover events in a hot zone might well turn to Google — and will that employer be able to find you?

Veteran journalist Steve Buttry responded to Weingarten’s column with this:

[B]randing starts with quality and hard work. But lots of outstanding journalists who did the hard work are losing their jobs. They are losing their jobs mostly because their industry has failed to develop new business models and new revenue streams in a period of disruption. But some of those journalists are losing their jobs or struggling to find new ones, in part, because they failed to show their value to their employers and their communities. Personal branding is about showing your value. It starts with quality and hard work, but if you don’t show the value, you can become undervalued. (Emphasis mine.)

That is the lesson new and would-be journalists need to learn so that they can make it in today’s media ecosystem.

Branding isn’t hooey — but it’s also not a shortcut to fame and admiration.

Related post: Journalists must build a personal brand: 10 tips

If you’re teaching journalism today, you must be aware of the discussion that surrounds branding.

If you’re a young journalist, or someone planning to enter the field of journalism, you need to understand what personal branding means.

On June 23, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote about this, and in summary, he said it’s a bunch of hooey. However, being an intelligent person, he also makes a very good point:

When I was a hungry young reporter … [my goals were]: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. 3) Get doe-eyed young women to lean in close and whisper, “Take me.”

Note the order. First came the work.

Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.” That’s because we know that, in this frenetic fight for eyeballs at all costs, the attribute that is most rewarded is screeching ubiquity, not talent.

It’s very important that new or would-be journalists take Weingarten’s point to heart. There won’t be anything to be branded unless you have some substance to market, and that means much more than a talent for writing glibly. Lots of people have such a talent. Many of them spend their lives writing for an audience of one.

“The work” is just that — work — and as part of the work, you have to get off Facebook and go outside and speak to real live people. You have to read, widely and voraciously. You have to be curious about those who live in skins other than your own. You have to learn what makes a good story and how to tell a good story well.

Journalism educator Owen Youngman put it this way:

[E]ffective personal branding turns out to be less about self-promotion and social networks than it is about accuracy, fairness and credibility. Whether the subject is a blogger in Portland, or a newspaper reporter in Kankakee, or a TV anchor in Florida, it turns out that the work creates the brand, and the brand then helps people find more of the work.

If you don’t like the word brand, you can substitute reputation. The reason we talk about this more today than anyone did back in the 1970s when Weingarten was starting his journalism career is that the pace and reach of journalism have changed quite a bit since then. Today someone who’s looking for a stringer to cover events in a hot zone might well turn to Google — and will that employer be able to find you?

Veteran journalist Steve Buttry responded to Weingarten’s column with this:

[B]randing starts with quality and hard work. But lots of outstanding journalists who did the hard work are losing their jobs. They are losing their jobs mostly because their industry has failed to develop new business models and new revenue streams in a period of disruption. But some of those journalists are losing their jobs or struggling to find new ones, in part, because they failed to show their value to their employers and their communities. Personal branding is about showing your value. It starts with quality and hard work, but if you don’t show the value, you can become undervalued. (Emphasis mine.)

That is the lesson new and would-be journalists need to learn so that they can make it in today’s media ecosystem.

Branding isn’t hooey — but it’s also not a shortcut to fame and admiration.

Related post: Journalists must build a personal brand: 10 tips

May 26 2011

18:19

American Marketing Association Nonprofit Marketing Conference

OnPointPlease join us for the 2011 Nonprofit Marketing Conference in DC, July 11-13.
The line-up is amazing, the presenters an incredible mix of nonprofit marketing experts.

Here are a few of the tech-related highlights:

  • PRE-CONFERENCE TUTORIAL - July 11
    Social Media Success for Nonprofits

    More than three-quarters of surveyed nonprofits in 2010 said that social media works best for “enhancing relationships with existing audiences.” But, are there more benefits coming with evolving use? Should nonprofits be using one networking site or more? Are there any strategies to managing the time it takes to grow social networks? And, how will services like Facebook and Twitter be changing in the future?

    Register for this three-hour, pre-conference workshop with renowned social media expert, Blue State Digital, the company that has crafted and implemented powerful social media campaigns for dozens of issue organizations and cultural institutions. We'll talk about some tactics that have worked well for BSD clients (like Obama for America, the NAACP, the Jewish Federations, Share Our Strength, US Soccer, and the It Gets Better Project) and others. We'll discuss where the biggest bang for the buck is for nonprofits, and where the risks are. We'll have a special conversation about prioritizing staff time in an era of limited resources. And, we'll reserve time to discuss your own programs and challenges.

    Lead presenter Rich Mintz will be joined by other members of BSD's communications team to talk about social media programs they worked on, why they made the decisions they did, and what results they achieved.  

    This is a hands-on session. Bring your laptop or mobile device!
    Presenter: Rich Mintz
    , Vice President, Strategy, Blue State Digital

  • All a Twitter July 12
    A recent study shows that 78% of nonprofit organizations find Twitter to be the most effective social media tool for reaching new supporters. This interactive session will focus on the future of social media and Twitter as they are being played out in the nonprofit sector and will include:  

    ·         Twitter best practices for nonprofits

    ·         Successful nonprofit campaigns on Twitter

    ·         Fundraising/membership on Twitter

    ·         Tools and tricks to use with Twitter

    ·         How Twitter benefits your integrated marcom strategy

    Bring your laptop or mobile device for hands-on practice!
    Presenter
    : David Neff,Senior Digital Strategist, Ridgewood: Ingenious Communication Strategy, co-author, The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age

  • Nonprofit Customer Acquisition and Retention: Traditional vs Digital Methods for Maximizing ROI

    July 12
    In order for nonprofits to survive and thrive, they need to continually acquire/recruit new donors, members, supporters, clients, and volunteers. Once they're in the door, however, attrition rates can soar without a sound stewardship and engagement program to retain them and grow revenue.

    Presenters: Allyson Kapin, Founder at Women Who Tech, Partner, Rad Campaign; Eric Rardin, Director of Nonprofit Services, Care2

 Get the earlybird discount of $100 if you register before June 11! There are group discounts, too, for nonprofits sending three or more employees. Click the image to find out more! JUST BE THERE!

March 30 2011

00:03

Interacting with the audience as a news brand

Last week I went over a few tips for setting a social media strategy and persona for your news org’s branded account(s) and tips for using those accounts as a brand. Today, let’s get into audience engagement on social media tools. These tips have served me well as both a brand and as an individual, helping [...]

March 29 2011

14:00

The Geico Gecko meets The AOL Way: Are display advertisers too obsessed with click-through rates?

Late last year, AOL announced it would be revamping its ad platform, shrinking the number of ads it serves and expanding the sizes of those ads. In some cases the ad units would be four times larger than they were before. The move was seen by many as AOL’s attempt to address the abysmally-low click-through rates on display advertising, and senior executives admitted that they would see an immediate drop in revenue as a result of it; their hope was that in the long run advertisers would flock to the new platform and pay higher rates for these more successful ads.

According to several studies, click-through rates — the number of people who actually click on an ad — run well below 1 percent on most sites, and each year these rates get lower and lower. Some industry analysts have said this is a result of “banner blindness,” the idea that we inadvertently train our eyes to ignore certain parts of a web page, including sidebar and banner ads.

Depending on which side of the aisle you are on, these metrics are either a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, the Internet allows us to measure ad success like never before. In the past, advertising agencies would have to employ arcane formulas using Nielsen or circulation numbers to guess how many eyeballs saw a 30-second spot on television or a full-page ad in The New York Times. Now, we can open up Google Analytics or click-tracking software to determine exactly how many users engaged with an ad. We can even in some cases determine conversion rates, measuring not only how many people clicked on an ad, but also how many actually purchased a product after making the click. These metrics are a welcome relief to the client who famously said, “I know I am wasting half my advertising budget; I just don’t know which half.”

But many publishers and advertising agencies have expressed frustration that their industry is beholden to such confined measurement. By focusing so much on direct response, they argue, advertisers are missing out on the larger branding opportunities afforded by creative advertising. The Geico Gecko is not successful because he inspires people to jump up from their couches and purchase car insurance; he’s successful because when a person decides months later to shop around for car insurance, his image springs to mind.

Earlier this month, a company called MediaMind released a comprehensive study on the performance of financial services display ads. MediaMind specializes in hosting ads and collecting a variety of performance metrics for advertisers. If Goldman Sachs wanted to advertise on NYTimes.com, for example, MediaMind would host the ad on its own servers and give the NYT a link to pull the ad onto its site. The company would then measure how many times the ad is loaded, how many people click on it, and even how many hover their mouse over the ad without clicking — what MediaMind refers to as “dwell.”

For this particular study, MediaMind analyzed 28 billion ad impressions and terabytes of data to determine what kinds of financial service ads — whether for banks, credit cards, or insurance companies — performed best. The average click-through rate on such ads is .09 percent, with an even lower post-click conversion rate of .03 percent. Perhaps more encouragingly, though, the “dwell” rate for these ads was 4.26 percent, meaning that nearly one in every 20 users hovered his or her mouse over an ad — an indication, MediaMind said, that the ad carried influence even if it didn’t lead to a click. The study claimed financial service ads had an overall conversion rate higher than their click-through conversion rate — .16 percent vs .03 percent — because some of the users who didn’t actually click on the ad still visited the advertiser later. One of the biggest takeaways from the study was that a user’s engagement with an ad sharply falls after the first time he has seen it, meaning that if he sees an ad on NYTimes.com and then later on WashingtonPost.com, he’s much less likely to click on the Post’s ad than a reader who is seeing it there for the first time.

To understand the click-through rate dilemma many advertisers face, one merely has to dive into MediaMind’s findings about which kinds of ads perform best: The highest click-through rates were for credit cards, while the lowest were for car and home-owners’ insurance. Ariel Geifman, MediaMind’s principal research analyst, explained to me in a phone interview that the credit card ads perform better because many people are almost always willing to try a new credit card with a better rate. But why did the insurance ads perform so poorly? “We think it’s because users only need a policy once a year, so you only need to get people at the point when they’re thinking about it — which is really hard,” Geifman said. “Unlike credit cards, users are not actively shopping for better insurance offers all the time, only once a year. You have to tempt them with an offer exactly at that point in order to get them to consider it.”

Display advertising, in other words, is lacking a Geico Gecko strategy.

Geifman told me that despite pushes for advertisers to take a much more “holistic” view, they’re still measuring their success on click-through and conversion metrics. “People try to focus more on the tangible rather than the intangible metrics,” he said. “In the furture, display advertising is going to be a lot more focused on branding.”

But will it? John Battelle, founder of Federated Media and a board member of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, has spent a lot of time contemplating this question. Federated Media is an ad network that provides advertising for hundreds of publishers, seeing more than a billion ad impressions a month. (I’ve written for some outlets that use FM advertising.) “No matter what, we have to live in a world where the question, ‘Does the consumer click on my ad?’ is the fundamental and only consistent signal in display advertising that is universally understood,” Battelle said in a phone conversation. “That impulse has a lot of implications. When people optimize click-through rates, it changes all sorts of decisions that can inevitablly lead down a path towards, in essence, the direct-response approach to advertising. Which is to say, if you optimize your creative — your media buy, your placement, everything — to this one signal, and you tell your agencies and your publishing partners that’s what’s most important, you’re going to get behaviors that drive clicks. And that sort of ignores a very large percentage of the value of advertising, which has to do with changing the perception, awareness, and potentially other important signals of value in the ecosystem. Unfortunately, it’s something we’ve had to live with because it’s the only standard that’s easily measured.”

To show the short-sightedness of such metrics, Battelle cited a comScore study that found in 2009 that 4 percent of Internet users drive a whopping 67 percent of all advertising clicks. Do we really want to target our ads, he asked rhetorically, to such a small user base — the online equivalent to those who respond to late-night infomercials?

Though the display advertising industry has been slow to battle this trend, it has taken steps to ameliorate it. Part of the problem, as the recent AOL ad revamp indicated, is that display ads are small. It’s very difficult to replicate the full-page ad of a print newspaper or magazine, and there’s only so much you can convey in a tiny box on a website’s sidebar. In 2009, Federated Media launched a product called an Ad STAMP that allows an advertiser to purchase multiple ad slots and effectively take over an entire page. The same year, Daily Kos hosted a “skin” advertising platform for a then-upcoming Frontline program called “Obama’s War.” The skin wrapped around all the Kos content, effectively bombarding the reader with the brand (while not intruding on the actual blog posts). BlogAds, a North Carolina-based ad network that serves ads to Daily Kos and hundreds of other blogs, has also experimented with including social content from sites like Twitter directly into the ads themselves.

In an interview last year, I asked BlogAds founder Henry Copeland which industries should rely less on click-through rates and more on long-term brand influence. He pointed to the entertainment industry as one example. “For instance, with TV shows or with a movie, very few people buy the ticket online,” he said. “So the real measure is you spent X amount in advertising and then you put this many seats in movie theaters.”

In the AOL Way, leaked to the Business Insider last year, the company indicated that an individual blog post needs about 7,000 pageviews to generate a profitable amount of advertising revenue. With the average cost per piece of content pegged at $84 and a target of an average gross margin of 50 percent, that puts AOL’s CPM at $18. In other words, it hopes to generate $18 for every thousand pageviews it generates. At a .09 percent click-through rate, we’re looking at about $18 per click. Given that you can get much better rates on advertising platforms like Google Adwords and Facebook’s targeted display advertising, it isn’t hard to see why a publisher would want to steer an advertiser’s focus away from raw clicks alone.

“You don’t build brands by optimizing for clicks,” Battelle told me. “There needs to be other measurments as to whether your audience is aware of and gaining value from the messaging you’re doing on these sites through display advertising.”

Of course, some would accuse these publishers of trying to put the new clothes back on the emperor. But as AOL shifts further away from its declining subscription revenue and more toward an ad-based model, it’s not surprising that it wants to convince advertisers that there is, in fact, value in a banner and sidebar ad. How much value is there will determine whether Tim Armstrong’s quest to build a content-based company will result in success or dismal failure.

Portrait of the Geico Gecko by Thomas23 used under a Creative Commons license.

March 21 2011

19:19

Channeling the news brand: Persona and strategy

Questions to ask and tips to consider when setting a social media persona and strategy for a news brand. [...]

December 17 2010

17:15

Journalism students need to be taught advertising, branding, building relationships, says ad entrepreneur

Journalism students must be taught about advertising, building relationships and branding – a football writer turned advertising entrepreneur told delegates at news:rewired today.

Rick Waghorn, founder of locally-focused advertising network Addiply, said that if we want to build a pyramid of news we have to start at the bottom level based on a local advertising market and messages.

Waghorn told the audience that he had a lightbulb moment when he read an article by Clay Shirky and Craig Newmark claiming that the only saviour for newspapers was a time machine.

The first person he met on his road to Damascus was an ex-ad man. They teamed up to create Addiply, which has helped hundreds of hyperlocal sites earn more from advertising than they would through Google Adsense. The idea has also being adopted by big media, including the Guardian which has applied the system to its its local sites. Addiply is also translating to the U.S market.

But if journalist students followed Waghorn’s advice, they would find themselves having a vastly different career to the kind envisaged in the YouTube clip below, which was shown by panelist Molly Flatt of 1,000heads.

It was striking how almost all the panelists in the branding and entrepreneurialism session had strong ideas that were formed at transitional moments of their life.

The advice from Rory Brown, founder of Briefing Media, is that business-to-business publishing is the place to be. Rory Brown’s own changing consumption of media inspired him to launch the company, which produces the online title The Media Briefing.

He told delegates that he was starting to consume media from lots of different places around the world and no longer went through the simple ritual of reading the Guardian on a Monday or Marketing magazine weekly.

Brown said that his reading habits had fragmented massively and it occurred to him that it would be useful to put all that content in one place and save people the time of building up a network.

Alex Wood‘s Not on the Wires was inspired by a desire to get closer to the story through the use of mobile technology. Formed with two other young journalists, they pioneered their approach to reporting from the field at the G20 protests in London.

They have formed a network of related organisations with like-minded companies, using Not on the Wires as a shop window for their work.

“We have done a lot of unpaid work, we have done a lot of late nights,” he said. “We do it because we are passionate about it.”

Wood admitted that the idea of entrepreneurial journalism would get laughed out of the door at the business schools he attended in Wales and Japan.

Alex Wood at news:rewired:

November 30 2010

18:05

Net2 Recommends - November's Interesting Posts From Around The Web

The NetSquared team reads and shares lots of different blog posts, articles, reports, and surveys within our team. We have a lot of fun sharing within the team and it occurred to us that we should start sharing them with you, too! Net2 Recommends is a monthly series of news and blog posts from around the web that we found interesting or inspiring, mind-bending or opinion-changing, fun or just plain weird.

read more

November 05 2010

16:00

The six-figure fan club: How Global Post got 100,000 fans on Facebook

GlobalPost, the online-only foreign news outlet, has over 100,000 fans on Facebook. (As of this writing: 104,180.) While, sure, that’s far fewer fans than some of the bigger, more established publications out there — The New York Times has, at the moment, nearly 900,000 fans; The New Yorker, more than 162,000 — it’s also far more than, say, The New Republic (under 7,000) or, for that matter, the Washington Post (nearly 90,000.) And within GlobalPost’s more direct peer group, both Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs fall in the 20,000-follower range.

Which is all to say: For a startup that, given its age (young), its size (small), and its ambition (huge), can fairly be called “scrappy”…a six-figure fan club is a pretty big deal.

So, then: How’d they do it? The size of the young outlet’s Facebook fan base is to some extent a matter of simple serendipity — it’s “more than we’d ever imagined,” notes Phil Balboni, GlobalPost’s CEO and president — but it’s also one of strategy. “It goes without saying: Facebook is a tremendously important part of the web and people’s consumption of information,” Balboni told me. “And we really wanted to grow our Facebook engagement as much as we could.”

“Some kind of magic”

The growth came, in the end, from a concerted effort to take GlobalPost’s content and turn it into a campaign. In late May, the outlet began an overhaul of its website — giving GlobalPost.com not only an image-heavy aesthetic that reflects web design’s current trend toward timeless magazine-iness, but also baked-in social plug-ins from Facebook. Now, Balboni notes, in addition to the outlet’s brand-building efforts on Facebook.com, “we’ve completely integrated GlobalPost with Facebook for commenting, liking, and sharing stories.”

Starting in early July, Balboni and GlobalPost’s marketing director, Rick Byrne, built on the site’s social integration with an aggressive, Facebook-based marketing campaign, creating ads to capture the interest of the site’s members. When they began those efforts, GlobalPost had 5,000 or so followers, Balboni estimates; by late October, they’d reached the six-figure mark. (For the statisticians out there, that’s about a 2,000-percent increase.) The ads that fueled all the liking focused on some of the broad narratives that are, for better or for worse, evergreens in the sphere of foreign reporting — among them human rights issues, green technology, and the war in Afghanistan. (The latter of those, “the Forever War,” has drawn particular engagement and interest on Facebook, Balboni notes.) The how’d they do that here, then, comes down not to a strict formula so much as a loose recipe. As Balboni puts it: “There’s some kind of magic between the content, the brand, and the types of issues we cover.”

You might think that the explosion of followers would be tied to particular events that occurred between July and now — I think there was something going on in Chile at one point? — but, no: The fan-base increase “was a pretty steady rise,” Byrne told me. You could argue, in fact, that the evergreen nature of the stories the site’s ads focused on — the environment, the war — allowed for the kind of steady, month-over-month engagement that builds name recognition iteratively…rather than via the momentary surges that come from event-based traffic, which spike suddenly and tend to plummet just as quickly.

You could also add that the narrative- and context-heavy journalism GlobalPost specializes in — “a look at the world that is quite different and richer and varied than you’d get from any other news organization,” Balboni puts it — is precisely the type of journalism that people like to, well, like: It’s political in the kind of broad way that allows users to demonstrate engagement with foreign news without having to act on that engagement. (It’s also often supra-partisan in a way that much of our national journalism is not.) There’s also the more hopeful view that people actually want more foreign coverage than most of us assume. And liking, of course, is an extremely low-barrier form of brand affiliation: see the invite, click the button, and move on. The transaction cost involved is basically zero.

The halo effect

Which begs, then, another question: For a site that has bills to pay and investors to please, does a Facebook-based marketing campaign offer enough in the way of return? Does GlobalPost’s fan base on the closed world of Facebook translate to traffic for a site that lives in the the open web?

Yes and no. While the direct correlation between GlobalPost’s Facebook likes and its site’s traffic is impossible to measure in concrete terms, “we’ve seen a significant increase in direct traffic since we started the Facebook campaign,” Balboni notes. Even if direct causation can’t be determined, the correlation is clear: The Facebook fan base helps GlobalPost build its brand, and brand recognition, in turn, creates a halo effect — the kind of broad recognition that radiates back to the site itself. “It’s important to not only maintain, but also to increase the number of direct visits,” Balboni notes, “because those are arguably the people who are most committed to your brand: your loyalists, your most enthusiastic readers.”

(Slate, it’s worth noting — along with Gawker and several other online brands — employs a similar logic based on branded traffic: A small group of loyal readers, the thinking goes, is worth more to publishers than a large group of casual ones.)

And that logic applies to site subscriptions, as well — aided by the fact that the outlet, which has partnered with Journalism Online to help facilitate its e-commerce activities, reduced its fees this summer. (Membership now costs $2.95 a month, or $29.95 a year.) “I think you can make a logical connection between people who are very interested in what GlobalPost does and those who are becoming members,” Balboni says. “The more people who care about what we do, the greater the chances that they’re going to click on that big red arrow at the top of our site and consider becoming a GlobalPost member.”

Strategy, on Facebook as everywhere else, is key. “You have to take deliberative steps,” Balboni says. “It doesn’t happen just by putting up a Facebook icon on your site. It takes more than that. You have to get people’s attention, in the Facebook community and everywhere else.”

October 21 2010

20:30

August 31 2010

11:01

10,000 Words: It helps to remember the ‘person’ in ‘personal branding’

Building up a personal brand is not all about having a presence on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn – it is also about being a ‘person’ Mark Luckie reminds readers of his 10,000 Words blog in a post detailing the lessons he has learnt.

As someone who has built up his own successful brand alongside his blog for journalists and technologists, and who recently celebrated being appointed the new National Innovations Editor for the Washington Post, Luckie advises journalists to remember the value of the ‘personal’ in personal branding.

In summary his tips are:

  • Be nice.
  • Show don’t tell. Make your work available online and share experience.
  • Say yes to new opportunities.
  • Do a favour for someone. It could be returned later down the line.
  • Ditch the ‘rules’ and follow your passion.

See his full post here…Similar Posts:



August 30 2010

16:00

Playing it by ear: The Atlantic joins the magazine-Tumbling fray in embracing experimentation

Until recently, Tumblr was a fairly isolated phenomenon: a platform that (to overgeneralize only slightly) helped a slew of web-savvy young city-dwellers to stay connected with more characters than Twitter but less commitment than blogs. Now, though, the service — which passed its billion-post mark last Monday — is in the air in a more diffuse way, via the tons-of-Tumblrs popping up under the banners of national news outlets. There’s Newsweek’s praiseworthy specimen — the most buzzed-about of the bunch — but there’s also The New Yorker’s, The Economist’s, The American Prospect’s, Life magazine’s, the Huffington Post’s, the Paris Review’s, Utne Reader’s, ProPublica’s, and, a bit farther afield, Public Radio International’s, ABC News Radio’s…and on and on.

One of the most recent additions to the world of media-outlet-Tumbling comes courtesy of The Atlantic, which marked its entry into that world earlier this month. With this:

Since then, the outlet’s fledgling Tumblog (which, ironically or fittingly enough, doesn’t employ Peter Vidani’s free — and quite popular — Atlantic theme) has been populated with ephemera both serious and less so: a mix of images and blurbs and links to content from around the web, from TheAtlantic.com to far, far beyond. Today, for example, finds images of Macchu Picchu and New Orleans; last week found, among other posts, a link to AtlanticTech’s story about competitive lock-picking; an image of real-world renderings of keyboard shortcuts; a post pointing us to the photo site 2 4 Flinching and its compendium of photographs “detailing life on and in the New York City subway in the 1980’s”; a link to an Atlantic photo essay documenting the decay that remains in New Orleans five years after Katrina; a link to Karim Sadjadpour’s list of five key points about the wisdom of an Iranian military strike that, had he the chance, he’d convey to Benjamin Netanyahu; and a YouTube video, via Newsweek’s Tumblr, of “Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, the Democratic nominee for gov, who somehow manages to spend 30 seconds of film time in the shower without being sensual or pathetic.”

In other words, The Atlantic’s Tumblr, like its media-led peers, reads a bit like the world itself: messy and arbitrary and yet, somehow, sensical. There’s an internal logic to it — but one based on the core illogic of, simply, “what’s interesting.” There’s a good amount of madness…with very little method in it.

And that’s the point.

“If our approach is anything, it’s just experimental,” says J.J. Gould, TheAtlantic.com’s deputy online editor, who’s helping to think through the outlet’s Tumblr presence. The goal is to interact with the quirky new platform — to get to know its rules and rhythm and tones — and go from there. “We’re interested in the language, the distinct nature of the medium — and how to play the instrument,” Gould says. Sure, “we should be smart in the way we approach Tumblr as we aspire to be smart in the way we approach anything. But it’s not something that needs to be over-thought.”

So will The Atlantic’s Tumblr end up looking like The Economist’s (a slick affair filled with crisp images and content curated mostly from the magazine’s own website)? Or will it be more like Newsweek’s (which, even after the departure of former-proprietor Mark Coatney, remains witty and snarky and, in feeling if not in branding, separate from its parent outlet)? Or something in between?

Again: TBD.

And, again: that’s okay. In fact, that’s how it should be. The newness — and, as of now, the relative unknown-ness — of Tumblr offers a certain freedom for media outlets concerned, now more than ever, with the demands of their brands. “One of the things we’re interested in is just the question of what a media institution with a 153-year-old history might be able to do with Tumblr that it can’t do with other things,” Gould says. Tumblr, he notes, is “to some extent a different medium — it plays differently. That’s what’s awesome about it.” Newsweek’s Coatney-led account, the (yeah, I’m going to say it) trailblazing Tumblr, established the freewheeling-because-separate (and separate-because-freewheeling) relationship between the Tumblog and its parent outlet — and that assumption of separateness is one that other outlets are now benefiting from. Coatney recalled for me the leniency he received from his higher-ups at the then-still-WaPo-owned magazine: “Experiment. Do whatever you want. Don’t embarrass us too much. And see how it goes.”

That’s the attitude that has come to characterize the Tumblr accounts of even The Most Serious News Organizations. “I don’t think the Tumblr is something that one needs to or even should bring too much strategy to,” Gould says. “You should just sort of learn what it is, and learn what works well.” And that process, undertaken with a platform whose very infrastructure encourages caprice, requires a level of lightheartedness. Sure, The Atlantic can use its Tumblr to push Atlantic.com content — people who are following the magazine on Tumblr, Gould points out, are presumably also interested in the work it produces — but, ultimately, “we’re entirely interested in approaching Tumblr as its own thing.”

The broader interest is one you don’t often hear discussed in the rarefied air of our national magazines-of-ideas, but one that could stand to get a little more traction in that world: in a word, whimsy. “We certainly think it looks like a lot of fun,” Gould says of his magazine’s new platform. Tumblr’s family status — both of the brand, but independent of it — makes it an ideal platform for, among other things, finding out where that fun fits into the new world we’re forging. Tumblr’s rapid growth, Gould notes, “says something to us. It’s speaking to people in some way.”

July 30 2010

21:00

Luckie them: meet WaPo’s new National Innovations Editor

Big news today, both for The Washington Post and for its newest hire: the multimedia journalist Mark S. Luckie. [Go ahead, get it out of your system: Insert your favorite "Luckie" pun -- "the WaPo gets Luckie," "WaPo's Luckie charms," etc. -- here.] On August 23, Luckie — the former multimedia producer for California Watch, the current proprietor of the 10,000 Words blog and Twitter feed, and, let’s not forget, the possessor of one of the most delightful profile pics on the Internet — will join the Post’s newsroom as its National Innovations Editor.

Journalists, if you’re looking for evidence of the professional power of the personal brand, this is it. Luckie embodies the kind of learn-it-yourself/do-it-yourself ethos that is increasingly common — and even essential — in digital journalism: gather the tools you need, build a community, follow your own interests and passions and quirks. And if you’re (sorry!) Luckie: good things will come. As the soon-to-be-WaPoer tweeted of today’s news: “So happy right now I can barely eat my French toast : D”

I chatted with Luckie this afternoon; though many of the specifics of his role are still TK, he clarified a bit of what his Important-Sounding New Title will actually entail: experimenting with tools that will allow for better production on the Post website; fostering conversations and online engagement among readers; devising new methods of crowdsourcing. Pretty much your basic “innovations editor” job description — with the important caveat, Luckie notes, that the job will have a particular focus on “finding out what works for the Post.”

In other words: his role won’t be simply to “find out what’s cool and what’s hot,” Luckie says, but to “actually develop a strategy that will help not only the Post, but also the readers. Which is a big thing that I care about.” To that end, experimentation will be key, he says — but experimentation that’s respectful of the Post’s readership. “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, we should be doing this’ if it’s not something that would work for the Post audience.”

But, that said, Luckie will look to other companies — non-journalism outfits like HBO and even NASA, he says — for ideas that he can steal for the Post. “I think the Post recognizes, and is moving toward, more digital integration — not just having a website, but having a destination. And an interactive destination.”

And in terms of that other interactive destination — the 10,000 Words blog — will Luckie be maintaining it once he’s started his new, uh, post?

“Yes!” he says. “I’m going to keep it going. I can’t not blog. I was in the museum the other day — I was just there to relax — and I was like, ‘This would make a great blog post.’ So that was a signal to me that, yes, I need to keep the blog going.”

May 07 2010

14:00

An involuntary Facebook for reporters and their work: Martin Moore on the U.K.’s Journalisted

In the era of big media, our conceptions of trust were tied up in news organizations. If a story was on page 1 of The New York Times, that fact alone conjured up different associations of quality, truthfulness, and trustworthiness than if it were on page 1 of The National Enquirer. Those associations weren’t consistent — many Fox News viewers would have different views on the trustworthiness of the Times than I do — but they still largely lived at the level of the news organization.

But in an era of big-media regression and splintered news — when news can be delivered online by someone you hadn’t even heard of 10 seconds ago — how does trust evolve? Does it trickle down to the individual journalist: Do we decide who to trust not based on the news organization they work for but on the reporter? Are there ways to build metadata around those long-faceless bylines that can help us through the trust thicket?

It’s a question that’s getting poked at by Journalisted, the project of the U.K.’s Media Standards Trust. You can think of Journalisted as an involuntary Facebook for British reporters — at the moment, those who work for the national newspapers and the BBC, but with hopes to expand. It tracks their work across news organizations, cataloging it and drawing what data-based conclusions it can.

So if you run across an article by Richard Norton-Taylor and have pangs of doubt about his work, you can go see what else he’s written about the subject or anything else. There’s also a bit of metadata around his journalism: A tag cloud tells you he writes more about the MI5 than anything else, although lately he’s been more focused on NATO. You can see what U.K. bloggers wrote about each of his stories, and you can find other journalists who write about similar topics. And for journalists who choose to provide it, you can learn biographical information, like the fact that Simon Rothstein is an award-winning writer about professional wrestling, so maybe his WWE stories are more worth your time.

It is very much a first step — Journalisted is not yet the vaunted distributed trust network that will help us decide who to pay attention to and who we can safely ignore. The journalist-matching metadata is really interesting, but it still doesn’t go very far in determining merit: No one’s built those tools yet. But it’s a significant initiative toward placing journalists in the context of their work and their peers, and in the new splintered world, that context is going to be important.

Our friend Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust dropped by our spare-shelved office not long ago and I asked him to talk about Journalisted. Video above, transcript below.

Journalisted is essentially a directory of all the journalists who are published in the UK national press and on the BBC, and in the future other sites as well. Each journalist has their own profile page, a little bit like Facebook or LinkedIn, but the difference being that that page is automatically updated with links to their most recent articles. It has some basic analysis of the content of those articles, so what they write an awful lot about, and what they don’t. And, it has links to other information to give context to the journalist, so if they have a profile in the paper, or if they have a Wikipedia page, or if they have their own personal blog or website. And as of a couple of weeks ago, they can add further information themselves if they’d like to.

[...]

If you’re interested in a particular journalist and you want to know more about what they write about, again to give you context, then obviously that’s a very good way of doing it. It tells you if they come from a particular perspective, it tells you if they’ve written an awful lot about a subject. If you, for example, read a piece strongly recommending against multiple vaccinations, you might want to know if this person has a history of being anti-multiple vaccinations, or if they have particular qualifications in science that make them very good reporting on this issue, etc. So, it gives you that context.

It also, on a simpler level, can give you contact details. So, where a journalist has published their email address, we automatically serve it up. But equally they can themselves put in further contact information, if you want to follow up on a story. And we also have some interesting analytics which lead you on to journalists who write about similar topics, or if you read an article, similar articles on the same topic. So again, it’s to contextualize the news and to help you to navigate and have more reason to trust a piece.

[...]

Initially, there was a bit of shock, I think. An awful lot of journalists don’t expect the spotlight to be turned around and put on them, so we had some very interesting exchanges. Since then, it’s now been around long enough that a lot of journalists have actually started to almost use it as their online CV. They’re adding their own stuff, they’re asking us to add stuff on their behalf, and they’re seeing that it can be of benefit to them, either with sources, so that they can allow sources to contact them, and to engage with them, or, equally, with employers. Quite a number of journalists have told us that editors have looked at their Journalisted profile and made a decision as to whether to offer them some work.

[...]

There are a number of goals. The initial one that we’re working on now is to flesh out the profiles much more. So to give people much more depth around the person so that they can have a much better impression as to who this journalist is, what they write about, their qualifications, the awards that they’ve won, and the books that they’ve written, etc. So, really flesh out the individual profile.

Following on from that, we’d love to expand it. We’d love to bring in more journalists, more publications — if possible, even go international. Our hope is that in the future, it will start to become a central resource, if you like, a junction point, a linked data resource, so that it will be the place you’ll come to from either the news site, from a blog, from wherever, in order to find out more about a journalist.

November 23 2009

14:00

Natalie Fenton: Has the Internet changed how NGOs work with established media? Not enough

[The publishing power of the Internet has opened up new possibilities for NGOs seeking to spread their messages. But is this new access changing the kinds of messages NGOs create, or is it reinforcing old paradigms? Natalie Fenton of Goldsmiths, University of London, examines how the online landscape has changed NGO communications. This is the third part of our series on NGOs and the news. —Josh]

Publicity — both for campaigning and for fundraising — is a central aspect of all NGO work.1 For many NGOs, particularly the large, resource-rich organizations, responding to a media-saturated environment has meant a growth in press and PR offices increasingly staffed by trained professional journalists. These professionals apply the same norms and values to their work as any mainstream newsroom albeit with different aims and intentions. They use their contacts and cultural capital to gain access to key journalists and report increasing success in a media-expanded world.

Early exponents of the advantages of new communication technologies2 proclaimed that new media increase access and create a more level playing field. In reality, however, resource-poor organizations have been forced to rely on long-standing credibility established by proven news-awareness and issue relevance. They find it much harder to keep up with changes in technology and the explosion of news and information spaces, and much harder to stand out amidst the countless online voices competing for journalists’ attention.

This essay draws on a range of interviews with a variety of NGOs and journalists conducted throughout 2007 and 20083 to consider the NGO as news source and the nature of its relationship to the professional journalist in a new media environment.

To be noticed, NGOs are now expected to embrace all of the opportunities available to them in the digital world — from blogging, podcasts, and social networking sites to their own online news platforms and beyond. Below, I refer to this opportunity and expectation as both the seduction of space and the tyranny of technology. Servicing these different communication channels and technologies requires investment of time, money and technical skills, resources that are not equally available to all. Certain organizations, and particularly those that are resource-rich, may be getting more coverage (often online). But even in these cases, to better secure coverage, NGOs must modify their content to fit pre-established journalistic norms and values — a media logic that has led to “news cloning.”

Cloning the news

Here, “news cloning” refers to the practice by NGOs of providing news that mimics, or indeed matches, the requirements of mainstream news agendas. Davis4 notes how research on various campaigning organizations5 points to increasing use of professional press and publicity methods for political and economic gain. The large resource-rich organizations maximize this political and economic gain by employing trained journalists in press offices that often simulate professional news rooms. As one interviewee notes:

Certainly everyone in a particular section were journalists and intentionally so. When I was there I was the first one, I think, to have been a journalist. It was something new. That’s changing now, and they are wanting more journalists to come in. When I went for my interview, the boss said, it’s all changing and we’re very excited about media. [Interviewee A: Press officer of a large international NGO talking about a previous job in a similar organization]

Every NGO interviewee in this study reported an increase in media-related activity; the larger organizations have experienced a steady increase in paid press officers, most of whom have professional journalistic backgrounds, over the last ten years. These NGO news professionals spoke frequently of how they knew intrinsically what makes a news story:

I like to think I could bring a certain kind of instinct to it. [Interviewee A: Press officer, large international NGO]

Of how they used their network of journalist friends to shift stories:

My football team that I play for is the Press Association. Not that they actually work for the Press Association anymore but they work on the Daily Mail, The Independent, they’re all hacks and we play other hacks. How easy is that. It’s not like the well meaning press office sends out a press release saying “this is really important”, rubbish. [Interviewee A: Press officer, large international NGO]

Of how they perceive themselves as journalists:

Because I like to write the story. Because, having been a journalist, I want to do all of it. Often, the text we give them is used word for word or it’s word for word but with the third paragraph of it put first and then the second paragraph fourth or whatever. [Interviewee C: Press officer, large international NGO]

These large and resource-rich organizations “work” the mainstream news on a daily basis and seek to provide ready-made copy to fill the ever-expanding space available to news in the digital age. This may make these organizations very news-friendly and ensure they receive more media coverage. But there is little evidence that NGOs have managed to change news agendas and challenge normative conceptions of news criteria. On the contrary, pressures to reproduce these normative conceptions are increasing. The result is news cloning:

There is definitely pressure to kind of move on to something that might be perceived to be more newsworthy. [Interviewee H: Press officer, small international NGO]

Those who do news cloning can be seen as “political entrepreneurs”6. Their ability to be entrepreneurial is determined by the resources available to them. These resources include financial aspects (the capacity to maintain a press office and employ specific staff); the cultural capital associated with class, professional status, and expertise; and the legitimacy and credibility gained through previous activities within the political and media fields. In this way some NGOs have followed a “media logic”7 that conditions how they behave — how they provide news gatherers with material that conforms to the pre-established criteria of what news is.

I’m a proper old hack. I used to be on the other end of [press releases] and they just went straight in the bin, not a chance. You just put your journalistic hat on and you think, well, if I got that as a story then would I run it or not? [Interviewee E: Head of media, large international NGO]

As the news space has expanded so dramatically, with 24-hour rolling news and the Internet in particular, the onus upon such “political entrepreneurs” to reach and penetrate all of the various news platforms also increases. The ability to do this consistently and with rigor is time consuming, though not necessarily difficult with a ‘cloning’ mentality. Only those organizations with adequate numbers of suitably trained personnel can sustain the levels of activity necessary to blog, inhabit social networks, develop their own news pages, contribute to online forums, and so on:

So some of this [media work] actually is driven by individual staff members, because there aren’t so many of us. We can’t just hire in things, and we’re on quite tight budgets. It’s largely, who do we know? Can we do it in-house? Can our person who does membership databases spend some time doing this sort of thing? [Interviewee D: Press Officer of a small national NGO]

Smaller, resource-poor organizations that have small press offices with staff that have often come up through the ranks cannot keep pace with the information onslaught on mainstream news sites and platforms of their wealthier counterparts. As Davis8 notes, more resources:

mean more media contacts, greater output of information subsidies, multiple modes of communication and continuous media operations. Extreme differences in economic resources mean wealthy organizations can inundate the media and set the agenda while the attempts of resource-poor organizations quickly become marginalized.

So new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are far from expanding access to, and representation in, mainstream news media amongst resource-poor groups, as much of the early literature envisaged.9 Resources, in particular the ability to spend time and money on keeping up-to-date with technological advances and feeding an insatiable news space still structure access and determine levels of representation.

Seduction of space

The limitless potential of the Internet was recognized across the board, both with excitement because of the possibilities it offers, and with resignation because not all organizations have the resources to invest in it fully. The seductiveness of the space available creates a kind of tyranny for NGOs — a never-ending process of mediated reflexivity and a feeling that they can never do enough but must always keep trying:

We also started using photographs in reports, but that’s now moved on. There is a sense there is a need to not just have decent images for reports that illustrate graphically what you’ve written, but also to have short clips and testimonies from the people that you’re interviewing or, if this is not possible, from the [NGO] researcher. The aim is that those clips could be used by media organizations who don’t have the wherewithal to call in. [Interviewee H: Press officer, small international NGO]

The days of a couple of phone calls, a few press releases, and maybe a press conference are over. This world of source-journalist relations is faster and greedier than ever before. This is paradoxically leading to forces that reproduce existing power hierarchies on both sides. All news outlets are content-hungry, and NGOs need to feed the expanding news space relentlessly if they are to gain coverage. The seductiveness of space invites recognition of the huge potential for coverage but it is only realizable for those with resources and well-established relations with journalists, and those willing and able to fulfil normative news criteria.

The majority of NGOs feel that because of the space that journalists are now required to fill and the time pressures in which to do it, their copy gets picked up more readily and more rarely gets changed:

…journalists are now expected to write copy for the newspaper and write copy for the website and maybe to blog and maybe actually to produce podcasts now as well. So what we are looking at is how we can make the journalist’s job as easy as possible. They will take exactly what you give them. I think that has changed from before, when you gave a journalist a press release or an idea of a story that would then be worked up. I think now we see much more of our stuff appearing verbatim. [Interviewee J: Head of communications, large national NGO]

The sheer amount of news space and multiplicity of news platforms available has also led NGOs to seek out and prioritize the traditional, trusted news forms. They do this for two reasons. First, they believe that the high-profile, high-status news platforms will provide a springboard to all other forms of news dissemination, including all online news as other news organizations constantly fee off these sites10; and second, they believe that these outlets are still the most trusted news sites by the general public and the most closely watched by the powerful. Only two of the organizations interviewed showed any active awareness of alternative news sites, and even then these were sidelined in favour of the “big hitters”:

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never heard of Indymedia, I don’t know what it is. My view is, if you write for BBC Online, then it gets out there anyway and it gets picked up by everyone. I don’t need to worry about phoning these people up and talking to Indymedia. I need to know that I’m not wasting my time. [Interviewee A: Press officer, large international NGO]

The obvious consequence of NGOs targeting traditionally powerful news outlets with more and more professional adeptness and news know-how is that established news values remain as dominant, and one could argue even more entrenched, than ever before. In other words, the Internet may provide constant possibilities for the fracturing of dominant discourses, but on the whole these possibilities remain unused and untapped. NGOs use new media simply as different ways to get the same story out. And the story is written to fit all the normative dimensions of mainstream news as closely as it possibly can.

The tyranny of technology: “Because we can, we do”

No organization could not have a website, could they? I mean, you couldn’t not have a website because you would look stupid. [Interviewee I: Head of communications, small national NGO]

In the larger, resource-rich NGOs, once new technology has been accepted as part and parcel of one’s media presence it becomes an endless process of revamping and updating. This is no small task, and frequently organizations reported a growth in staffing to deal with the new roles created (or required) by this new technology. Contrary to claims of new technology breaking down communication barriers due to ease of access and relative low cost, the relentless marketing of new software and new communication fads and fashions put ever more pressure on NGOs to maintain technological faculty at no small cost. The endless amount of space available, the multiplicity of news channels all requesting information and material along with the need to ‘keep-up’ with new technology trends was felt as a substantial pressure by many:

We currently have a sense in the organization that we do need to be venturing into new media but we’re held back by resources and time. [Interviewee F: Press officer, small, national NGO]

Organizations with small press offices simply can’t keep pace with the demand of 24-hour news, putting them at an immediate disadvantage:

Obviously the 24-hour rolling news programs are in themselves a problem. They almost discourage things because as soon as you get a news item then somebody else will pick it up and then somebody else will pick it up and so everybody wants another quote. [Interviewee G: Head of communications and policy of a medium national NGO]

Of course, the tyranny of technology is also accompanied by the communicational possibilities that the Internet offers outside of the mainstream news arena. Despite the perceived importance of gaining mainstream news coverage, and the efforts and constraints that this imposes on the activities of NGOs, the Internet has enabled resource-poor NGOs to gather information and disseminate their work more readily than ever before, particularly within and among their own publics. In an investigation into the websites of international and national environmental NGOs in the UK, Finland, Spain, Greece, and the Netherlands, Tsaliki11 argues that the Internet is most useful for intra- and interorganizational networking and collaboration. Rather than bringing in new forms of communication, on the whole it complements existing media techniques for issue promotion and awareness-raising.

There is also a growing literature on the use of the Internet by new social movements for oppositional political mobilization. Much of this literature agrees that although such activity may not point to identifiable new political projects, it does point to unprecedented political activity of a global nature.12 This form of networked technopolitics links marginalized groups and builds counter discourses. It resists the construction of a one-size-fits-all politics by insisting on the preservation of a multiplicity of political identities. Many of the grassroots groups involved in these new social movements consciously reject the mainstream media and seek to establish other, alternative means of communicating their message.13

As with other established communities (such as politicians and interested political groupings on the inner circle of Westminster14), so with the voluntary sector: The use of the Internet for intra- and interorganizational debating and sharing of information seems to have increased sociality and interactivity and augmented communicative ties. Internal communities of interested people are built and reinforced through the networks facilitated by new communication technologies:

We did some work on a very high profile campaign on Internet repression which caught the eye of a lot of bloggers and gave us a good reputation with them. So we started reaching out to the bloggers. We have now what we grandly call the e-Action Task Force, where there’s about 200 or so bloggers that we regularly send information to and encourage them to blog about those issues on behalf of our organization. [Interviewee B: Head of press, UK division of large, international NGO]

Conclusion

It appears that the Internet has given NGOs more opportunity to peddle their wares and get their voices heard, to build communities, and to exchange information and engage in communication. When it comes to mainstream news, however, these voices have been trained to deliver what mainstream organizations are crying out for — news that conforms to established, unchanging news criteria and provides journalistic copy at little or no cost. As a result, the line between the professional PR agency and the large-scale campaigning NGO has blurred into near extinction.

For those that do seek coverage in the mainstream media, the expansion of news platforms has resulted in the tried, tested, trusted, and thereby credible NGOs rising to the top of the pile. These are NGOs who can provide journalistic copy and have learnt the rules of the game. As news now comes from everywhere, conforming to normative news values is more crucial than ever before for gaining coverage.

This raises a critical question: If NGOs are simply doing the job of journalism — putting together well-researched, legally tight, impartial and objective stories — does it matter that it is them and not the professionals in news organizations that are making the news? Does it make any difference? There are three important rebukes to this line of argument.

Firstly, we need NGOs to be partial, occasionally illegal, and passionate about their cause — if they continue to mimic the requirements of mainstream, institutionalized news, then arguably they will fail in the role of advocacy, become no different than elite sources of information, and lose the position of public credibility (that comes by dint of distinction from elite sources15) that many are now enjoying. If all NGOs conform to the dominant “media logic” then they are all journalists and everybody’s story is newsworthy. And of course, by definition, then nobody’s is. This is a pluralism that succumbs to the rule of the market, where multiplicity merely translates into more of the same, albeit packaged in different ways and designed to attract the journalists’ attention — an attention that is increasingly preoccupied with market conditions.

Secondly, in the competitive environment of news sources, those with established positions of advantage and “bureaucratic affinity”16 are likely to retain a level of dominance. In the end, new media is just a different way to get the same stories out, and being able to get it out is still, on the whole, a privilege of the well-resourced.

Thirdly, rather than conveniently ignoring or maybe even welcoming news cloning, we need paid journalists in news organizations to expose the inadequacies and shortfalls of thoroughly mediated democracies if we are to retain a journalism that can be said to be for the public good and in the public interest.

Natalie Fenton is a Reader in Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communication, Goldsmiths, University of London, where she is also Co-Director of the Goldsmiths Media Research Programme: Spaces, Connections, Control, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Co-Director of Goldsmiths Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy. She is currently directing a large-scale research project on new media and the news, part of which involves an investigation of NGOs as news sources in a digital age. She has published widely on issues relating to media, politics, and new media, and is particularly interested in rethinking understandings of public culture, the public sphere and democracy. Her latest book, New Media, Old News: Journalism and Democracy in the Digital Age (2009) (ed.) is published by Sage.

References

Allan, S., Adam, B. and Carter, C., eds. Environmental Risks and the Media. London: Routledge, 2000.

Altheide, D.L. and Snow, R.P. Media Logic. Beverly Hills, CA.: Sage, 1979.

Anderson, A. Media, Culture and the Environment. London: UCL Press, 1997.

Benkler, Y. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale: Yale University Press, 2006.

Davis, A. “Public Relations and News Sources.” In S. Cottle, ed., News, Public Relations and Power, 927-943. London: Sage, 2004.

Davis, A. “Comparing the influences and uses of new and old news media inside the parliamentary public sphere.” Paper presented at the Futures of the News symposium, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2007.
Fenton, N. “Mediating solidarity.” Global Media and Communication 4, No. 1 (2008a), 37-57.

Fenton, N. “Mediating hope: new media, politics and resistance.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 11, No. 2 (2008b), 230-248.

Klein, N. No Logo. New York: Flamingo, 2000.

Fishman, M. Manufacturing News. Austin: University of Texas, 1980.

Gaskin, K., Vlaeminke, M. and Fenton, N. Young People’s Attitudes to the Voluntary Sector. London: National Council for Voluntary Organizations, 1996.

Manning, P. Spinning for Labour: Trade Unions and the New Media Environment. Aldershot: Avebury, 1998.

Miller, D. and Williams, K. “Negotiating HIV/AIDS Information: Agendas, Media Strategies and the News.” In J. Eldridge, ed., Getting the Message: News, Truth and Power, 126-142. London: Routledge, 1993.

Norris, P. Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty and the Internet Worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Norris, P. Democratic Phoenix: Reinventing Political Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Putnam, R. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Rheingold, H. Smart Mobs: the Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2002.

Schlesinger, P. “Rethinking the Sociology of Journalism: Source Strategies and the Limits of Media-Centrism.” In: M. Ferguson, ed., Public Communication: The New Imperative, 61-83. London: Sage, 1990.

Tsaliki, L. “Online Forums and the Enlargement of the Public Space: Research findings from a European project.” The Public 9 (2002): 95–112.

Notes
  1. A more detailed discussion of this argument can be found in Natalie Fenton, ed. New Media, Old News: Journalism and Democracy in the Digital Age. London: Sage, 2009.
  2. Klein 2000, Norris 2002, Rheingold 2002
  3. These interviews formed part of a larger project on new media and the news in the Goldsmiths Media Research Centre: Spaces, Connections and Control, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. This involved more than 150 semi-structured interviews with a range of professionals from a cross section of news media stratified by type of media, geographic reach, professional roles, and commercial and public sector broadcasting. It also included a range of news sources including NGOs. The sample of NGOs drawn upon for this essay was stratified by purpose (both those whose main purpose was as service providers and those whose main purpose was acting as pressure groups); geography (whether local, national or international) and size (calculated on the basis of annual income), although it was by no means a fully representative sample. Interviewees included both general and senior managerial staff in departments/ units aligned with media relations/ publicity; but did not include those with prime responsibility for online communication (often of a technical persuasion) where these differed from those involved primarily in media relations.
  4. Davis 2004: 31
  5. Miller and Williams 1993, Anderson 1997, Manning 1998, Allan et al. 2000
  6. Schlesinger 1990
  7. Altheide and Snow 1979
  8. Davis 2004: 34
  9. For example, Putnam 2000 and Norris 2001.
  10. In the UK this translates into The Today programme on BBC Radio 4; the Press Association; BBC 1 evening news; The Guardian and The Times followed by the BBC website.
  11. Tsaliki 2002: 95
  12. Fenton 2008a, Fenton 2008b, Benkler 2006
  13. Fenton 2008b
  14. Davis 2007
  15. Gaskin et al. 1996
  16. Fishman 1980
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