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May 15 2013

12:20

The newsonomics of where NewsRight went wrong

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Quietly, very quietly, NewsRight — once touted as the American newspaper industry’s bid to protect its content and make more money from it — has closed its doors.

Yesterday, it conducted a concluding board meeting, aimed at tying up loose ends. That meeting follows the issuing of a put-your-best-face-on-it press release two weeks ago. Though the news has been out there, hardly a whimper was heard.

Why?

Chalk it up, first, to how few people are really still covering the $38.6 billion U.S. newspaper industry. Then add in the fact that the world is changing rapidly. Piracy protection has declined as a top publisher concern. Google’s snippetization of the news universe is bothersome, but less of a central issue. The declining relative value of the desktop web — where NewsRight was primarily aimed — in the mobile age played a part. Non-industry-owned players like NewsCred (“The newsonomics of recycling journalism”) have been born, offering publishers revenue streams similar to those that NewsRight itself was intended to create.

Further, new ways to value news content — through all-access subscriptions and app-based delivery, content marketing, marketing services, innovative niching and more — have all emerged in the last couple of years.

Put a positive spin on it, and the U.S. newspaper industry is looking forward, rather than backward, as it seeks to find new ways to grow reader and ad revenues.

That’s all true. But it’s also instructive to consider the failure of NewsRight.

It’s easy to deride it as NewsWrong. It’s one of those enterprises that may just have been born under a bad sign. Instead of the stars converging, they collided.

NewsRight emerged as an Associated Press incubator project. If you recall the old AP News Registry and its “beacon,” NewsRight became its next iteration. It was intended to track news content as it traversed the web, detecting piracy along the way (“Remember the beacon”). It was an ambitious databasing project, at its peak taking in feeds from more than 900 news sites. The idea: create the largest database of current news content in the country, both categorized by topic and increasingly trackable as it was used (or misused) on the web.

AP initially incentivized member newspapers to contribute to the News Registry by discounting some of their annual fees. Then a bigger initiative emerged, first called the News Licensing Group (NLG). The strategy: harness the power of the growing registry to better monetize newspaper content through smart licensing.

NLG grew into a separate company, with AP contributing the registry’s intellectual property and becoming one of 29 partners. The other 28: U.S. daily newspaper companies and the leading European newspaper and magazine publisher Axel Springer. Those partners collectively committed more than $20 million — though they ended up spending only something more than half of that before locking up the premises.

Renamed NewsRight, it was an industry consortium, and here a truism applies: It’s tougher for a consortium — as much aimed at defense than offense — to innovate and adjust quickly. Or, to put it in vaudevillian terms: Dying is easy — making decisions among 29 newspaper companies can be torture.

It formally launched just more than a year ago, in January 2012 (“NewsRight’s potential: New content packages, niche audiences, and revenue”), and the issues surfaced immediately. Let’s count the top three:

  • Its strategy was muddled. Was it primarily a content-protection play, bent on challenging piracy and misuse? Or was it a way to license one of the largest collections of categorized news content? Which way did it want to go? Instead of deciding between the two, it straddled both.
  • In May 2011, seven months before the launch, the board had picked TV veteran David Westin as its first CEO. Formerly head of ABC News, he seemed an odd fit from the beginning. A TV guy in a text world. An analog guy in a digital world. Then friction between Westin and those who had hired him — including then-AP CEO Tom Curley — only complicated the strategic indecision. Westin was let go in July, which I noted then, was the beginning of the end.
  • Publishers’ own interests were too tough to balance with the common good. Though both The New York Times Company and AP were owners, it was problematic to include feeds of the Times and AP in the main NewsRight “catalog.” The partners tried to find prices suitable for the high-value national content (including the Times and AP) and the somewhat lesser-valued regional content, but that exercise proved difficult, the difficulty of execution exacerbated by anti-trust laws. Potential customers, of course, wanted the Times and AP as part of any deal, so dealmaking was hampered.

Further, all publishers take in steady revenue streams — collectively in the tens of millions — from enterprise licensors, like LexisNexis, Factiva, and Thomson Reuters, as well as education and copyright markets. NewsRight’s owners (the newspaper companies) didn’t want NewsRight to get in the way of those revenue streams — and those were the only licensing streams that had proven lucrative over time.

Long story short, NewsRight was hobbled from the beginning, and in its brief life, was able to announce only two significant customer, Moreover and Cision, and several smaller ones.

How could it have been so difficult?

It’s understandable on one level. Publishers have seethed with rage as they’ve seen their substantial investment in newsrooms harvested — for nothing — by many aggregators from Google to the tens of thousands of websites that actually steal full-text content. Those sites all monetize the content with advertising, and, save a few licensing agreements (notably with AP itself), they share little in the way of ad revenue.

But rage — whether seething or public — isn’t a business model.

Anti-piracy, itself, has also proven not to be much of a business model. Witness the tribulations of Attributor, an AP-invested-in content-tracking service that used some pretty good technology to track pirated content. It couldn’t get the big ad providers to act on piracy, though. Last year, after pointing its business in the direction of book industry digital rights management, it was sold for a meager $5.6 million to Digimarc.

So if anti-piracy couldn’t wasn’t much of a business model, then the question turned to who would pay to license NewsRight’s feed of all that content, or subsets of it?

Given that owner-publishers wanted to protect their existing licensing streams, NewsRight turned its sights to an area that had not well-monetized: media monitoring.

Media monitoring is a storied field. When I did content syndication for Knight Ridder at the turn of the century, I was lucky enough to visit Burrelles (now BurrellesLuce) in Livingston, New Jersey. In addition to a great auto tour of Tony Soprano country, I got to visit the company in the midst of transition.

In one office, older men with actual green eyeshades meticulously clipped periodicals (with scissors), monitoring company mentions in the press. The company then took the clips and mailed them. That’s a business that sustained many a press agent for many a decade: “Look, see the press we got ya!”

In Burrelles’ back rooms, the new digital monitoring of press mention was beginning to take form. Today, media monitoring is a good, if mature, industry segment, dominated by companies like Cision, BurrellesLuce, and Vocus, as social media monitoring and sentiment analysis both widen and complicate the field. Figure there are more than a hundred media monitoring companies of note.

Yet even within the relatively slim segment of the media monitoring space, NewsRight couldn’t get enough traction fast enough. Its ability to grow revenues there — and then to pivot into newer areas like mobile aggregation and content marketing — ran into the frustrations of the owner-newspapers. So they pulled the plug, spending less than they had actually committed. They decided to cut their losses, and move on.

Moving on meant making NewsRight’s last deal. The company — which has let go its fewer than 10 employees — announced that it had “joined forces” with BurrellesLuce and Moreover. It’s a face-saver — and maybe more.

Those two companies will try to extend media monitoring contracts for newspaper companies. BurrellesLuce (handling licensing and aggregation) and Moreover (handling billing and tracking) will make content available under the NewsRight name. The partnership’s new CAP (Compliant Article Program) seeks to further contracting for digital media monitoring rights, a murky legal area. If CAP works, publishers, Moreover, and BurrellesLuce will share in the new revenue.

What about NewsRight’s anti-piracy mandate? That advocacy position transitions over to the Newspaper Association of America.

NAA is itself in the process of being restyled into a new industry hub (with its merger and more) under new CEO Caroline Little. “As both guardian and evangelist for the newspaper industry, the NAA feels a tremendous responsibility to protect original content generated by its members,” noted Little in the NewsRight release.

What about the 1,000-title content database, the former AP registry that had formed the nucleus of NewsRight? It’s in limbo, and isn’t part of the BurrellesLuce/Moreover turnover. Its categorization technology has had stumbles and overall the system needs an upgrade.

There’s a big irony here.

In 2013, we’re seeing more innovative use of news content than we have in a long time. From NewsCred’s innovative aggregation model to Flipboard’s DIY news magazines, from new content marketing initiatives at The New York Times, Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and Forbes to regional agency businesses like The Dallas Morning News’ Speakeasy, there are many new ways news content is being monetized.

We’re really in the midst of a new content re-evaluation. No one makes the mistake this time around of calling news content king, but its value is being reproven amid these fledgling strategies.

Maybe the advent of a NewsCred — which plainly better understood and better built technology to value a new kind of content aggregation — makes NewsRight redundant. That’s in a sense what the partners decided: let the staffs of BurrellesLuce and Moreover and smarts of the NewsCreds make sense of whatever newer licensing markets are out there. Let them give the would-be buyers what they want: a licensing process to be as simple as it can be. One-stop, one-click, or as close as you can manage to that. While the disbanding of NewsRight seems to take the news industry in the opposite, more atomized, direction, in one way, it may be the third-party players who succeed here.

So is it that NewsRight is ending with a whimper, or maybe a sigh of relief? Both, plainly. It’s telling that no one at NewsRight was either willing or able to talk about the shutdown.

Thumbs down to content consortia. Thumbs up to letting the freer market of entrepreneurs make sense of the content landscape, with publishers getting paid something for what the companies still know how to do: produce highly valued content.

April 02 2013

10:49

Native Advertising Shows Great Potential, But Blurs Editorial Lines

Radio legend Paul Harvey was such a great storyteller that he could totally enthrall you before you realized you were listening to an ad.

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Today, you'd call that sponsored content. The larger term is native advertising -- strategies that mesh branded messages into the media where they appear. They include articles on news sites; funny videos and animated GIFs on humor sites; tweets and Facebook updates, and more. Instead of interrupting the flow like a typical TV commercial, pre-roll, pop-up or print ad, it blends into its surroundings and, in theory at least, offers the reader/viewer/listener something interesting.

Pew Research Center's 2013 State of the News Media Report found that while the amount spent on native advertising in 2012 was comparatively low -- $1.5 billion compared with $8.6 billion for banner ads -- it's rising fast. Spending for sponsored content grew 45 percent in 2011 and almost 39 percent in 2012. That's second only to video ads.

A Word from Our Sponsor

Some fear sponsored content blurs the ethical church-and-state division between advertising and journalism, while others say the revenue keeps reporters employed.

Reuters' Jack Schafer put it strongly in a recent piece, "A Word Against Our Sponsor": "If, as George Orwell once put it, 'The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket,' then sponsored content is the meal so wretched that even pigs will reject unless sugar-frosted," he wrote.

But whether you love or hate native advertising, examining the recent history of the news business, including declining revenues and widespread layoffs, sheds light on why it's growing so quickly.

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Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, told me that tough economic realities and the "anemic" growth of digital ad revenue opened the door.

"The grimmer news is that basically for every $16 that a newspaper is losing in print revenue, they're gaining $1 in digital," he said. "Just as the case with classified ads, which disappeared ... it's very possible that other forms of digital ad revenue are maybe more difficult than previously thought."

Forbes Leading the Way

Forbes was the first major news site to integrate sponsored content. In 2010, I wrote about how Forbes Media chief product officer Lewis Dvorkin shook up the established formula with AdVoice -- which hosted sponsored articles on Forbes.com.

Forbes Media chief revenue officer Meredith Levien told me it was slow going at first, especially since few companies had the staff or mindset for content creation. But in the last 18 months it's grown dramatically, in part because the publication added a team of writers, editors and graphic designers -- separate from the editorial team -- to help brands produce their articles. "We can't staff it fast enough," she said, adding that BrandVoice was "No. 1 on the list" of factors that made 2012 revenues the best in five years.

Last year, Levien successfully lobbied for the name to be changed to BrandVoice.

Levien+MEREDITH+Headshot.jpg

"AdVoice conveyed the notion it was part of the advertising mix," she said. "This is really about content and thought leadership."

Levien adds that she was gratified to see the Washington Post adopt a similar model earlier this year. "I don't think we can take credit for it, but we were especially pleased to see the Post get into it," she said.

A recent random look at BrandVoice content showed a piece from Oracle titled "King Richard III: Villain, Hero, or Tragic Victim of Identity Theft?" NetApp offered "3 Steps To Build Your Personal Brand For Tomorrow's Business (Tips From The CIO)." The CapitalOneSpark credit card team offered: "Optimize Your Website To Convert Visitors To Buyers." The "Voice" pages include links to more from the sponsor, which in some cases includes press releases.

In February, Dvorkin blogged that BrandVoice now has 20 partners. While he remains passionately upbeat, others are more cautious.

Digiday recently quoted Businessweek.com editor Janet Paskin saying she's treading lightly: "Our credibly and integrity, for all journalists, is sometimes harder to defend than it should be. We don't want to compromise that or allow for that perception."

Edgier Sites Jump In

While the traditional journalism community remains divided, many edgier news and entertainment sites see no problem at all. Some of BuzzFeed's snappy content is sponsored, as is some of what you'll see on Cheezburger, Gawker, Vice and others.

Onion Labs, the in-house advertising and marketing team of The Onion humor site, works with sponsored content in several ways. It integrates brands into its own video content -- such as 7-Up's placement in its morning show, "Today Now." It creates original content for major brands. It also posts or links to content produced by the brands themselves, like this video for Adobe:

CollegeHumor CEO Paul Greenberg said his site embraced the concept five years ago. At the Native Advertising Summit in February, he said there's such interest that the site's inner workings now resemble a digital ad agency.

"We've really had to turn into a machine to super-serve the clients that come to us and meet the demand that we're seeing in the marketplace," he told me. Listerine, he says, saw a 17 percent jump in sales after its native ad campaign.

Matt McDonagh, vice president for national sales at The Onion, says a Nielsen study shows that humor is the best way to reach a young target audience. Even big names such as Hilton and Coke Zero are dipping their toes into the comedy pool. "Brands are willing to take a few more risks than they were a few years ago because to hit 18- to 24-year-olds -- you're not going to do that on '60 Minutes,'" he said.

It seems that when it comes to entertainment sites, sponsored content has found a comfortable home.

"Those kinds of sites have pretty seamlessly integrated this," Pew's Jurkowitz said. "It's a more controversial choice for traditional legacy news organizations."

What Not to do

In 2010, Gary McCormick, then-chair of the Public Relations Society of America, publicly warned that poorly labeled sponsored content could be confused with objective news, especially because disclaimers can be lost as information is shared. Three years later, he feels media and brands understand the need for authenticity and transparency.

"It may be that it's no longer always the 'buyer beware' -- it's now the 'manufacturer beware' of putting out false claims," McCormick said. "If you come out with something hidden behind the wall it only takes one consumer to spot it ... They're going to dig deep."

When The Atlantic ran a boosterish Church of Scientology native ad, then deleted critical comments, the outcry prompted an apology with the opening line, "We screwed up."

At the Native Advertising Summit, The Atlantic Digital's vice president and general manager, Kimberly Lau, called the Scientology incident a lesson in what not to do. "The whole experience clarified how it is people are going to judge these things," she said.

The Onion did a scathingly hilarious take featuring fake content praising the Taliban.

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The Onion's McDonagh notes the parody came from the editorial, rather than sales side, but he feels their pain. "To The Atlantic's credit, they're testing some things out and trying to make themselves a smart digital publisher," he said. The key, he adds, is to understand and stay true to your audience.

Sharing the Wealth

The native ad boom is also already creating new business models -- maybe even a whole new advertising sector.

Take, for instance, the success of Sharethrough, which helps increase the reach of sponsored content. For example, if a brand creates a post for one site, Sharethrough carries it to other platforms such as WordPress, Forbes.com, The Awl and Thought Catalog, which direct traffic back to the original post. Videos can be embedded and viewed in a number of blogs and sites.

Although it's only four years old, it's worked with 20 of the top 25 brands of AdAge magazine's Megabrands list. Relationships with many websites and publishers helped it create the Native Advertising Summit. (As a matter of fact, it popularized the term "native advertising," building off the phrase "native monetization" used by venture capitalist Fred Wilson.) Sharethrough has also become a clearinghouse for information about the new industry with tools such as the Native Advertising Leaderboard, which is searchable by brand, publisher, topic and social actions.

"There's a lot of creativity happening in this space right now," said Chris Schreiber, the firm's vice president of Marketing & Communications. One recent project promoted an infographic Pop Secret developed about how people watch movies. "They were delivering value -- something you didn't know and was easily sharable," he says.

When sponsored content -- especially videos -- work, he says, it's great. "It's more about thinking what's valuable for the audience and the consumer rather than what's valuable for the marketer."

Microsoft met its marketing goals while engaging a new audience with its The Browser You Love(d) to Hate campaign for Internet Explorer 9. Roger Capriotti, director of Internet Explorer product marketing, hired producers to create visual content that targeted young people who might otherwise disregard the product. The effort relied on viral shares and news coverage instead of paid posts; the most frequently shared video recalled memories of growing up in the '90s:

As anyone who's tried to make a video go viral knows, 25 million video views -- including 22 million for "Child of the 90s" alone, is nothing to sneeze at, even for Microsoft.

"If we can build good content, we can engage them in a way that we haven't engaged them in the past," Capriotti says. The best part, he says, was reading positive reviews posted by new-found fans.

The Rest of the Story?

Jurkowitz, of the Pew Research Center, questions how far the native ad trend will reach.

"Obviously the growth rate is high, but we're talking about a universe of small numbers here," he says. "There's some momentum in this direction, understandably, but it's not by any means a foregone conclusion that this is going to become a dominant form of advertising in mainstream news outlets going forward."

But The Onion's McDonagh clearly sees brands moving away from conventional ad campaigns, and demanding more creativity. "Brands are trying to develop content and trying to act more like publishers, and that's a sea change from where we were three to five years ago."

Sharethrough's Schreiber notes that as soon as new platforms crop up, advertisers jump on them -- as they've done with Twitter's Vine app, which creates short videos. He expects newer platforms will arise specifically for native advertising. "You're going to see new media created with native advertising, knowing that's how they're going to make their money," he says. And brands, he says, will learn what works best for their audience and their message. "They'll find their voice," he concludes.

Usually at this point in a Paul Harvey show, he would knowingly say, "And THAT's ... the rest of the story." But right now, prospects for native advertising are not so clear-cut that any one person or group can claim to have the last word. The only thing that's certain is that they will continue to evolve.

Terri Thornton, a former reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter @TTho

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August 23 2012

16:03

August 16 2012

15:46

Lewis D'Vorkin, Forbes: The new language of journalism

Forbes :: Journalism must be more about the individual — the actual content creator (journalist or otherwise) and the person who’s consuming the content. In the era of the social Web, journalism can best fulfill its essential mission to inform when the individual who possesses information connects, or transacts, one-on-one with the individual who desires it.

Continue to read here Lewis D'Vorkin, www.forbes.com

Tags: Forbes

July 28 2012

13:59

$3.2b market, really? - Annals of dubious statistics, crowdfunding edition

Reuters :: Are crowdfunding statistics the new counterfeiting statistics? Certainly they seem to have become a meme. If you know that crowdfunding is a big deal, it’s probably because you read all about it in TechCrunch, in USA Today, or maybe the Economist. More recently, Forbes.

[Felix Salmon:] All of these statistics, you won’t be surprised to hear, come from the same place: a May report from Crowdfunding.org and its research arm, Massolution.

A report by Felix Salmon, blogs.reuters.com

April 23 2012

20:50

Inside Forbes 'sustainable" model for journalism: It's 4:30 pm

Forbes :: For the last 22 months, FORBES has been aggressively building a new, sustainable model for journalism as technology continues to disrupt the media and advertising industries. We now have 1,000 content creators — staff reporters, authors, academics, topic experts and business leaders. They all use our tools to publish content and establish their individual brands on our platform. We are a disruptive force in our own right.

Lewis DVorkin of Forbes calls it "editing for talent." Find good contributors, give them good tools, set them free. onforb.es/Jsvgkv

— Jay Rosen(@jayrosen_nyu) April 23, 2012

Inside Forbes by an insider - Continue to read Lewis D'Vorkin, www.forbes.com

April 20 2012

05:05

Will The New York Times Company survive as a stand-alone firm past 2015? - A trendline discussion

Columbia Journalism Review :: Will The New York Times Company survive as a stand-alone firm past 2015? - That’s unknowable, of course. A lot can happen between now and then. But extrapolating from current trends can give us an idea of where things are going. That’s what Ironfire Capital’s Eric Jackson does for Forbes, arguing that trendlines suggest that the “basket-case” of a company likely will either be in bankruptcy or forced to sell to someone else within three years.

Continue to read Ryan Chittum, www.cjr.org

April 19 2012

20:36

Inside Forbes: Love 'em or hate 'em, comments are critical

Forbes :: Arthur Miller, the American playwright and one-time college reporter and night editor, said a good newspaper was like “a nation talking to itself.” Back then, it was editors and reporters who had all the say. Many decades later, The Huffington Post upended the media elite by letting the audience in, too. It coined a far less elegant phrase, “the mullet strategy,” to describe a new kind of conversation — “business in the front,” or a home page run by editors, and “a party in the back,” all the other Web pages ruled by tens of thousands of raucous commenters sounding off about one thing or another. The conversation has been and always will be at the heart of the media industry.

[Lewis D'Vorkin:] As technology amplifies today’s strident and disparate voices, many of us in digital media are working to keep the talk productive — or at the very least civil.

Continue to read Lewis D'Vorkin, www.forbes.com

Tags: Forbes

April 12 2012

04:45

Patch's Editor-in-Chief Brian Farnham is leaving: This isn't goodbye...

Patch :: As you heard on today's All-Company call, after four years as Editor-in-Chief of Patch, I'm moving on. My last day is May 4. I'm leaving for an assortment of reasons, but I'm glad to be able to say that none of them is negative. I love Patch, and I plan on staying very connected as an active alum, most specifically as a member of the advisory board we're continuing to build. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that I can maintain this connection, and I'll be there anytime Patch calls on me.

Hat tip: Jeff Bercovici, Forbes

Continue to read Brian Farnham, blog.patch.com

Tags: Forbes

January 15 2012

17:03

The Texas Tribune case study: “Community engagement” as journalism strategy

Texas Insider :: It’s a Wednesday night party at Malverde bar in avant-garde Austin, Texas – America’s #1 “Big Boom Town” according to Forbes Magazine this year.  The place is reserved tonight for Austin elite, a happy hour to toast this online news site that is viewed as a possible prototype for nonprofit journalism. Smith and The Tribune reporters mingle with the crowd of lobbyists, Capitol staffers, media types, and philanthropists working on margaritas as Occupy Austin continues just across the street.

After two years, the model is still a test case – one that paradoxically seems to be on a fast track inside a vanishing institution.

Via Marie K. Shanahan

Continue to read Josie Duckett, www.texasinsider.org

July 28 2011

20:24

Steve Forbes responds to Fortune story in memo: "intention of disrupting (our) business"

AllThingsD :: Fortune depantsed longtime rival Forbes today with a story detailing the business magazine’s finances, which have been terrible. - Don’t worry about it, Forbes chairman Steve Forbes tells his staff, via an internal memo (Peter Kafka included the memo in his article). Why should we read the Fortune piece? - Peter Kafka: "The Fortune article is useful because it details, via internal documents from banker J.P. Morgan, just how badly the bet that Elevation Partners placed on the magazine in 2006 has worked out."

[Steve Forbes, memo:] Today Fortune magazine published a story on Forbes with the clear intention of disrupting the business of its most formidable competitor. ...

Discussed, incl. Steve Forbes memo - continue to read Peter Kafka, allthingsd.com

Fortune article about Forbes finances Katie Benner, finance.fortune.cnn.com

May 27 2011

18:36

What's next? - Facebook strategy: share music, TV, news, and books

New York Times :: Forbes told us that Facebook has partnered with Spotify to launch a new music service in two weeks. New York Times now delivers a reason: Facebook is developing features that will make the sharing of users’ favorite music, television shows and other media as much a part of its site as playing games or posting vacation photos.

Continue to read Ben Sisario | Miguel Helft, www.nytimes.com

May 25 2011

19:24

Facebook Spotify partnership: new music-streaming service in 2 weeks?

Forbes :: Facebook has partnered with Spotify on a music-streaming service that could be launched in as little as two weeks, sources close to the deal have told Forbes. The integrated service is currently going through testing, but when launched, Facebook users will see a Spotify icon appear on the left side of their newsfeed, along with the usual icons for photos and events.

Continue to read Parmy Olson, blogs.forbes.com

October 13 2010

17:30

Revamped Forbes Pushes Advertorials, Social Media, Conflict

Earlier this year Kevin Gentzel, the chief revenue officer of Forbes, took a look at what the chief marketing officers in the Forbes CMO Network were doing with their companies. He realized they were becoming content creators -- and that this had big implications for his magazine and other traditional media.

Gentzel said this underscored the massive shift that was taking place in media and publishing.

"It was almost a monologue that existed in media up until five or six years ago," Gentzel said. Now, after helping make some major changes at Forbes, he says his organization is "embracing that and not running from it."

Gentzel said his realization led him and his Forbes colleagues to start paying close attention to True/Slant, a website Forbes alum Lewis DVorkin started that featured "entrepreneurial journalism," in which writers received part of the ad revenue their pages produced. It also offered a product called "AdSlant," which offered marketers a paid blogging platform.

In a much talked about purchase, Forbes bought out True/Slant earlier this year. DVorkin, whose journalistic pedigree includes the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the New York Times, AOL and TMZ, re-joined Forbes as chief product officer, responsible for all editorial areas of the company including the print publications and Forbes.com.

Advoice Crossing the Line?

Now Forbes has an offering called Advoice, which, like AdSlant, offers paid blog space to advertisers. "In this case the marketer or advertiser is part of the Forbes environment, the news environment," DVorkin told Ad Age. "Marketers need to reach the audience. This is where publishing is headed."

Some marketers praised the idea, but many journalists did not. Mathew Ingram of GigaOm questioned whether Forbes was selling its journalistic soul.

Advertorials -- special advertising sections in print publications that evoke an editorial tone and design -- remain a source of controversy, said Rick Edmonds, the Poynter Institute's media business analyst and leader of news transformation. Reporters, he said, don't want readers to confuse objective reporting with advertising.

"As a reader of [Forbes.com] I would have a reasonable comfort level if it's labeled as advertising but not so much if it isn't," he said. He also noted that many blogs and websites currently fail to disclose when content is sponsored or produced in exchange for free products.

Gentzel said advertisers will hold no sway over Forbes' writers. And if the Advoice bloggers need coaching or help, assistance would come from the business, not editorial, side.

"We are not out to ever try to confuse a reader or user," Gentzel said. "It's the exact opposite of that. This will only work -- and will work -- by the clear and transparent labeling of the voices. The last thing we'd ever do is confuse a reader about what they're reading."

lewis-dvorkin.jpgDVorkin has written that Forbes wants to provide opportunities for the voices of content creators, the audience and marketers to all engage in print and online.

"The bold steps that Forbes is taking to evolve its products will help lead journalism to its future," he wrote. "Our goal is clear: to put news and the journalist at the center of social media. If we can accomplish that, we will go a long way to providing our audiences with the information they want -- and enabling the three vital voices of the media business to be active participants in the larger conversation."

Gentzel said that while there's no firm launch date, the "larger conversation" could start very soon.

"As a content creator who's listening to marketing partners, we think marketing partners can provide amazing expertise to our readers and users," Gentzel said.

Tempest Over Obama Critique

At the same time Forbes is pursuing its new Advoice product and strategy, it's also investing heavily in social media. DVorkin has said this is part of a process of "opening up" Forbes.

Active Twitter accounts include @forbes, @ForbesWoman, @ForbesLife and @ForbesAsia. Reporters and editors regularly interact with readers online. In August Forbes.com launched new blogs written by both staffers and outside contributors. (Disclosure: I offered to become a blogger for Forbes and sometimes pitch stories about clients to Forbes.) In September, a new web platform for the Forbes 400 debuted, letting readers "follow" the richest Americans, receive email alerts and converse about them.

"I've been impressed with their aggressive rethinking of what qualifies as content," said consultant and CNN veteran David Clinch, president of Clinch Media Consultancy. He's helping Forbes utilize high definition Skype cameras to conduct instant video interviews with newsmakers and contributors. "They have moved far beyond just the idea of an article and a picture and byline and moved to real-time content, and they've done a good job of coordinating that and getting writers and contributors familiar with social media."

how-obama-thinks.jpgBloggers write what they like, even criticizing Forbes itself. Dinesh D'Souza's Sept. 27 cover story opened with the unattributed statement that "Barack Obama is the most anti-business president in a generation, perhaps in American history." The former Reagan policy analyst's essay suggests that people should examine the views of Obama's Kenyan father to understand the president's "hostility to private enterprise."

In response, Forbes' Craig Silver wrote: "I hope that the powers that be at Forbes will see that promoting such offal can't help but damage the brand, keeping serious journalists from wanting to appear in our pages and maybe even advertisers." Columnist "Shikha Dalmia:http://blogs.forbes.com/shikhadalmia/, a senior analyst at Reason Foundation, described D'Souza's story as a pathetic rant of unsubstantiated ideological accusations.

Dalmia told PBS MediaShift that Forbes insiders responded positively to her comments. "On the whole, I think they were fair in how they handled my response," she wrote in an email. "[They] didn't try and water it down or in any way soften my criticism of D'Souza or Forbes, which is unusual to say the least."

The Poynter Institute's Edmonds said such public disagreements can be healthy. "I'm a bit more disturbed by publications taking the party line or essentially sticking to a business agenda," he said.

Staff Changes

While several journalists, including editors Paul Maidment and Carl Lavin have indeed left, others have recently jumped to Forbes Media. They include AOL DailyFinance.com media reporter Jeff Bercovici, who covered Dalmia and Silver's criticisms of the controversial cover. (His article noted that DVorkin encouraged public conflict at True/Slant, where Bercovici was a paid contributor.)

Other recent additions include Kashmir Hill, an editor at the irreverent online legal blog Above the Law, Huffington Post world editor Nicholas Sabloff, and Halah Touryalai, who covered Wall Street for Registered Rep. Former staffer Zack O'Malley Greenburg returned after taking time off to write a book about rapper and businessman Jay-Z.

Long-time Forbes reader Michael Shmarak, a principal with Sidney Maxwell Public Relations, says Forbes' re-do "is like putting some Dolce & Gabanna clothes in a closet full of Brooks Brothers power suits.

"Forbes now has to treat itself just like many of the companies it has covered," he said. "All of these policies won't mean anything unless the staff believes in it, and readers embrace the change."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

May 28 2010

12:30

This Week in Review: Facebook’s privacy tweak, old and new media’s links, and the AP’s new challenger

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

Facebook simplifies privacy control: After about a month of loud, sustained criticism, Facebook bowed to public pressure and instituted some changes Wednesday to users’ privacy settings. The default status of most of the data on Facebook — that is, public — hasn’t changed, but the social networking site did make it easier for users to determine and control their various privacy settings. For some social media critics, the tweaks were enough to close the book on this whole privacy brouhaha, but others weren’t so satisfied with Facebook. Here at the Lab, Megan Garber seized on the theme of “control” in Facebook’s announcement, arguing that the company is acknowledging that online sharing is as much individual and self-interested as it is communal and selfless.

Before rolling out those changes, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg penned a Washington Post op-ed that served as a defense of Facebook’s privacy policy masquerading as an apology. “If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more. If people share more, the world will become more open and connected,” he wrote. The reaction was swift and negative: It was called “long on propaganda and short on news,” “disingenuous” and “missing the point” by several media and tech critics.

Their comments were part of continued attacks on Facebook’s privacy stance that began to shift from “Facebook is evil” to “So what do we do now?” Facebook’s new, more private rivals escalated their efforts to provide an alternative, while social media researcher danah boyd argued that leaving Facebook would be futile and instead urged users to “challenge Facebook to live up to a higher standard.” Several legal and web thinkers also discussed whether the government should regulate Facebook’s privacy policies, and the Harvard Business Review’s Bruce Nussbaum made the case that Facebook has alienated the generational principles of its primary user base of millennials. (Mathew Ingram of GigaOm disagreed.)

But amid all that, Facebook — or at least the sharing of personal information — got another defender: The prominent tech thinker Steven Johnson. In a thoughtful essay for Time, he used the example of media critic Jeff Jarvis’ public bout with prostate cancer to argue that living in public has its virtues, too. “We have to learn how to break with that most elemental of parental commandments: Don’t talk to strangers,” Johnson wrote. “It turns out that strangers have a lot to give us that’s worthwhile, and we to them.” Of course, Johnson argues, being public or private is for the first time a decision, and it requires a new kind of literacy to go with it.

Paywalls and the links between old and new media: The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study examining the way several big news topics were discussed across several online news platforms, and as usual, it’s a whole lot of discoveries to sift through. Among the headlines that Pew pointed out in its summary: Twitter users share more technology news than other platforms, the traditional press may be underemphasizing international news, blogs and the press have different news agendas, and Twitter is less tied to traditional media than blogs. (Mashable has another good roundup, focusing on the differences between the traditional media and the blogosphere.)

The study did take some heat online: TBD’s Steve Buttry took issue with the assertion that most original reporting comes from traditional journalists, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran dug into the study’s methodology and argued that Pew selected from a list of blogs predisposed to discuss what the traditional media is reporting, and that Pew’s definition of news is shaped by circular reasoning.

Gahran was looking at what turned out to be the most attention-grabbing statistic from the study: That 99 percent of the stories blogs link to are produced by the mainstream media, and more than 80 percent come from just four news outlets — the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post. DailyFinance media columnist Jeff Bercovici used that statistic to caution that the Times may be giving up a valuable place as one of the top drivers of online news discussion by implementing its paywall next year, while The Big Money’s Marion Maneker countered that bloggers’ links don’t equal influence, and the Times is more interested in revenue anyway. Reuters’ Felix Salmon echoed that warning, adding that if the Times is truly keeping the doors to its site open to bloggers, it should be trumpeting that as loudly as possible. And wouldn’t you know it — the next day the Times did just that, reiterating that links to their site from blogs won’t count against the limit of free visits.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper the Times and Sunday Times unveiled plans for its soon-to-be-erected paywall, including the fact that all of the sites’ articles will be blocked from all search engines. The Times and New York Times’ paywalls were almost tailor-made for being contrasted, and that’s exactly what the Lab’s Jason Fry did, using them as examples of an open vs. closed paradigm regarding paid content.

A challenger to the AP’s model: We found out about a fascinating news innovation this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference, where the online news sharing company Publish2 revealed News Exchange, its new content-sharing service for publishers. Essentially, News Exchange is a way for media outlets, both online-only and traditional, to send and receive stories to each other for publication while retaining control of what they share and with whom.

If that sounds like a free, open version of The Associated Press, it’s because that’s exactly what Publish2 sees it as. At the conference, Publish2’s Scott Karp came out against The Associated Press with both guns blazing, calling it “a big enemy of newspapers” and “an obsolete, inefficient monopoly ripe for destruction.” Publish2’s goal, he said, is to “Craigslist the AP.” (In a blog post, Publish2’s Ryan Sholin went into some more detail about why and how; in a Mashable post, Vadim Lavrusik looked closer at how the service will work and what it’s missing right now.)

Publish2’s bold idea was met with mixed reactions among both the tech and media crowds: A few of TechCrunch’s panelists wondered whether print publications were worth building a business around, but they were impressed enough to advance it to the final round of the conference’s startup competition anyhow. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen called it “an extension into print of ‘do what you do best and link to the rest,’” and CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson said he was thrilled to watch Publish2 take on an irrational system but concerned that the tangle of CMS’s could trip it up. But media consultant Mark Potts noted that much of what the AP transmits is news it reports and produces, something Publish2 isn’t going to try to do. It’s rare that we see such a bold, explicit attempt to take down such an established news organization, so this will doubtless be a project to keep a close eye on.

A disappointing iPad app and an open-web debate: A couple of iPad-related developments and debates this week: While publishers cautiously awaited the iPad’s international release this week, Wired magazine released its iPad app this week — an eagerly awaited app in tech circles. The app is $5 per month, significantly more than the $10 per year that the magazine charges subscribers. Gizmodo Australia’s John Herrman called it “unequivocally, the best magazine for the iPad,” but still wasn’t entirely impressed. It’s too expensive, takes up too much space, and doesn’t deliver the reinvention of the magazine that we were expecting, he said. Lost Remote’s Steve Safran was harsher — calling it a magazine dropped into an app. “Simply taking your existing magazine and sticking in some video does not make it a more attractive offering; it makes it a website from 2003,” he said.

The New York Times Magazine’s Virginia Heffernan ruffled a few feathers this week with a short essay on “The Death of the Open Web,” in which she compared the move into the carefully controlled environs of Apple’s products like the iPhone and iPad to white flight. Web writers Stowe Boyd and Tim Maly refuted Heffernan’s argument, pointing primarily to the iPhone and iPad’s browser and arguing that it keeps the door open to virtually everything the web has to offer. And blogging pioneer Dave Winer said the phrase “death of the open web” is rendered meaningless by the fact that it can’t be verified. In a final quick iPad note, the journalism and programming site Hacks/Hackers hosted a conference in which attendees built an impressive 12 iPad apps in 30 hours.

Reading roundup: This week, we’ve got two news items and a handful of other thoughtful or helpful pieces to take a look at.

— The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit local news site based in San Francisco, launched this week. The San Francisco Bay Guardian took a look at the challenges in front of the Bay Citizen, Poynter used it as a lens to view four trends among news startups, and the Chicago Reader examined the Chicago News Cooperative, another nonprofit news startup that also provides stories to The New York Times. The Lab’s Laura McGann also gave some tips for launching a news site the right way.

— Forbes bought the personal publishing site True/Slant, whose founder, Lewis Dvorkin, is a former Forbes staffer. Dvorkin explained his decision to sell, and Felix Salmon expressed his skepticism about True/Slant’s future.

— Longtime journalists Tom Foremski and Caitlin Kelly both wrote thoughtful posts on what happens when pageviews become a high priority within news organizations. They’re not optimistic.

— Two pieces to bookmark for future reference: Mashable has a thorough but digestible overview of five ways to make money off of news online, and TBD’s Steve Buttry gives some fantastic tips for landing a job in digital journalism.

— Finally, NewsCred’s Shafqat Islam has a wonderful guide to creating effective topic pages for news. This one should be a must-read for any news org looking seriously at context-driven news online.

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