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April 01 2013

18:12

For watchdog stories, ‘who pays?’ is the wrong question

Former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger said that before he retired the paper in late 2007, each investigative story cost up to $500,000. Figuring out how to foot that bill is important, but so is thinking about how to reduce it in the first place. Read More »

October 06 2011

16:00

The Newsonomics of f8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worldwide, it claims an audience of 800 million.

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

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

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

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

So how might f8 innovations help those?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 14 2011

04:46

Bancroft family members express regrets at selling Wall Street Journal to Murdoch

Pro Publica ::  A number of key members of the family which controlled The Wall Street Journal say they would not have agreed to sell the prestigious daily to Rupert Murdoch if they had been aware of News International's conduct in the phone-hacking scandal at the time of the deal.

[Christopher Bancroft:] If I had known what I know now, I would have pushed harder against the Murdoch bid.

The comments by family members in interviews with ProPublica came as the crisis engulfing Murdoch's News Corporation threatened to spread to the U.S. with two senators calling for an investigation into whether the company broke U.S. laws over the phone hacking scandal.

Continue to read Richard Tofel, www.propublica.org (This story was co-published with The Guardian.)

04:38

Credibility of news brands: if you make mistakes admit them, they will surface with the coverup

CScape.com :: Reputation and brand equity are rapidly becoming the primary assets of any media business. So when we damage them, we damage the entire industry, starting with those companies closest to the offender.  The News of The World phone-hacking scandal does damage others in the News Corp. family, like Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch. Trust is something that has always been hard to earn, but has become even harder to come by in recent years.

In the media, as in politics and government, the real problems tend to surface with the coverup, not the original crime.

Larry Cramer - Why journalistic integrity means even more In the digital age and why the coverup was the real problem.

Founder and Former CEO of CBS Marketwatch.com. The first president of CBS Digital. Sits on the Boards of Discovery Communications, Inc., American Media Inc., Freedom Communications, Inc., Black Arrow Inc., Harvard Business School Publishing, Appinions. Former reporter and editor for The Washington Post and San Francisco Examiner. (click on photo for contact info)

Credibility - Continue to read Larry Cramer, paidcontent.org

December 13 2010

20:09

Stories inside and outside traditional beats: narrative nods in the winter issue of Nieman Reports

One of our sister sites, Nieman Reports, has just posted its latest issue, “The Beat Goes On.” You can take a gander at the issue in its entirety, but we thought we’d include some highlights for those of you with a particular interest in narrative.

In “Modern-Day Slavery: A Necessary Beat – with Different Challenges,” E. Benjamin Skinner offers a well-written account of reporting on the sex trafficking beat, weighing storytelling with ethics, action, and the needs of his subjects. Melanie Hamman’s “Visual Stories of Human Trafficking’s Victims,” a partner piece to Skinner’s, discusses visual documentary of criminal, exploitative activity, and wounded subjects. “Merely by retelling her story,” Hamman writes, “a victim can be retraumatized, severely complicating her recovery.”

Storyboard contributor (and longtime narrative journalist) Beth Macy offers a sample of the kinds of stories she balances on the family beat at The Roanoke Times and how that beat has changed in her many years there. Looking to the future, Macy says that when it comes to stories, “If we tell them well, it won’t matter what medium we use. They can be our saving grace.”

Very different opinions emerge about new media’s effect on the sports beat, including storytelling in sports. Former Wall Street Journal tech columnist Jason Fry discusses sportswriting as a blogger and ponders what’s most important in reporting. Lindsay Jones, who covers the Broncos for The Denver Post, explains how Twitter works for her. But in excerpts from the 2010 Red Smith Lecture on Journalism at the University of Notre Dame, sportswriter Frank Deford (a senior contributing writer with Sports Illustrated and commentator for NPR) worries about what the digital revolution has done to sportswriting:

“The Internet – or to be kind, the influence of the Internet – is reducing the amount of storytelling in sports journalism … the story – which was always the best of sportswriting, what sports gave so sweetly to us writers – the sports story is the victim. Sportswriting remains so popular – one word. Sports stories – two words, are disappearing.”

Gay Talese might well agree. In an excerpt from an October talk in Boston celebrating the release of “The Silent Season of a Hero: the Sports Writing of Gay Talese,” he answered a question from the audience by saying that reporters are behind their laptops too much. Arguing for being present with subjects and occasionally unplugging, Talese said, “Sometimes I think reporters should waste some time. Good journalism is wasting time.”

The winter issue includes many other stories, from reviews of books about the status of women journalists and the work of legendary writers to a look at whether news organizations have some obligation to tell stories whose audience size may not sustain the resources required to report them. See the full roster here.

September 01 2010

20:00

SULBERGER VERSUS MURDOCH: IT’S THE (DIRTY) WAR!

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First, The Wall Street Journal confronted The New York Times.

So today Sulzberger launched his first main assault to Murdoch in his own British market.

With Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond, a 6,00- word story written by Don Van Natta Jr., Jo Becker and Graham Bowley, three big guns of The New York Times, Sulzberger tries to destroy the reputation (?) not of the News of the World, the Sunday gossip tabloid of News Corporation, but the reputation of Rupert Murdoch as owner of this popular paper.

The war is here.

My only question is this:

Why British newspapers, magazines, radio, television, blogs… didn’t cover the story in such a powerful way?

The New York Times is again the “solo” paper producing first class real investigative reporting.

A lesson hard to learn by other more complacent rivals.

(Picture by Lewis Whyld/Getty Images)

July 16 2010

10:23

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL NEEDS MORE COPY EDITORS AND LESS ANONYMOUS SOURCES

steve-jobs

From a story about the prospects of today’s iPhone 4 press conference:

Nine paragraphs, yes nine!, ending with the same “music” written by YUKARI IWATANI KANE and NIRAJ SHETH.

The nine “familiar” endings:

1. Apple Inc. released its newest iPhone despite internal concerns about its antenna reception, and gave wireless carriers far less time to test the phone than is typical, according to people familiar with the matter.

2. The Cupertino, Calif., company has called a news conference at its headquarters to discuss the issue Friday. Apple doesn’t plan to recall the phone, a person familiar with the matter said.

3. Apple engineers were aware of the risks associated with the new antenna design as early as a year ago, but Chief Executive Steve Jobs liked the design so much that Apple went ahead with its development, said another person familiar with the matter.

4. The electronics giant kept such a shroud of secrecy over the iPhone 4’s development that the device didn’t get the kind of real-world testing that would have exposed such problems in phones by other manufacturers, said people familiar with the matter.

5. The iPhones Apple sends to its carrier partners for testing are “stealth” phones that disguise a new device’s shape and some of its functions, people familiar with the matter said.

6. Apple gave its carrier partners far less time to test the iPhone 4 before its launch and gave them significantly fewer devices to test than other handset makers, people familiar with the matter said.

7. As development on the iPhone 4 proceeded, field testing would have been limited because of Apple’s emphasis on secrecy, said people familiar with the matter.

8. The testing process usually takes a minimum of 14 weeks. However, Apple flies in the face of this norm, handing over iPhone prototypes to carriers with much less time, people familiar with the matter said.

9. Later versions, including the iPhone 3G that was launched in 2008 and the iPhone 3GS last year, also didn’t hold a signal as well as other phones and experienced more dropped calls, people familiar with the matter said.”

Oh, by, that’s a world record.

Editors and real sources needed!

April 15 2010

12:14

THE ICELAND VOLCANO ERUPTION AND THE MAPS CHALLENGE

2010-04-15_1307

Good visual journalist be alert!

How do you believe in these maps when the information is not very good?

Look at the first ones and you will see how unreliable they are.

This will be a great challenge for my infographic friends.

But they will end doing a good job.

You will see.

The BBC has done this basic one:

BBCAshes

Anoher version with the same data posted by the European edition of The Wall Street Journal website from the U.K. Met Office with an illustration of the volcanic ash dispersion from the surface to 20,000 feet, issued at 6 a.m. on Thursday.

OB-ID963_icelan_G_20100415070452

And The Telegraph included this picture from a real-time radar image showing all aircraft movements in UK airspace at 9.30am today.

The image from www.radarvirtuel.com shows how ash from the Icelandic volcano stopped all flights in the northern parts of UK.

2010-04-15_1310

Lainformacion.com in Spain has a bigger map with more or less the same data.

2010-04-15_1320

El Pais in Madrid shows the Meteosat 9 images and this the best way to understand the size and impact of the volcanic ashes.

2010-04-15_1327

And in Twitter going to ashes you can see this incredibly beautiful picture

26236_1428974328969_1371165971_31160820_3980022_n

More, later.

April 01 2010

06:06

THE IPAD COUNTDOWN (-3): FIRST REAL TEST, MOSSBERG LOVES IT

waltmossberg

Walter Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal Personal Technologies Guru, has been testing for one week the new Apple iPad.

His review is a strong endorsement of the new tablet.

With minor reservations, he writes:

“After spending hours and hours with it, I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop. It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.”

Regarding media applications:

“I was able to try a pre-release version of The Wall Street Journal’s new iPad app (which I had nothing to do with designing), and found it gorgeous and highly functional—by far the best implementation of the newspaper I have ever seen on a screen. Unlike the Journal’s Web site, or its smart-phone apps, the iPad version blends much more of the look and feel of the print paper into the electronic environment. Other newspapers and magazines have announced plans for their own, dramatically more realistic iPhone apps.”

It’s a 9 of 10.

Watch here his video- review.

March 15 2010

18:18

THE NEW YORK TIMES VERSUS THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

2010-03-15_1805

Today The New York Times launched his new marketing campaign “numbers” against The Wall Street Journal.

A very aggressive one.

Yes, the “numbers” are very impressive, but…

If you are a leader, you don’t start to look back over your shoulder…

Except if your follower is coming very fast.

And that’s the case.

So, the market reacted as expected: the shares of The New York Times went down almost 5 per cent.

February 25 2010

22:31

REAL NEWS WITHOUT ORIGINAL REPORTING? THE CHINA/GOOGLE HACKING CASE

8D2B39E9-5601-4C1E-8752-D74AD01E10C0_w527_s

Jonathan Stray checks for the Nieman Journalism Lab the real sources of the recent breaking-news story about the China/Google hacking case and finds that”

– Out of 121 unique stories, 13 (11 percent) contained some amount of original reporting. I counted a story as containing original reporting if it included at least an original quote. From there, things get fuzzy. Several reports, especially the more technical ones, also brought in information from obscure blogs. In some sense they didn’t publish anything new, but I can’t help feeling that these outlets were doing something worthwhile even so. Meanwhile, many newsrooms diligently called up the Chinese schools to hear exactly the same denial, which may not be adding much value.

- Only seven stories (six percent) were primarily based on original reporting. These were produced by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Tech News World, Bloomberg, Xinhua (China), and the Global Times (China).

- Of the 13 stories with original reporting, eight were produced by outlets that primarily publish on paper,  four were produced by wire services, and one was produced by a primarily online outlet. For this story, the news really does come from newspapers.

So how are we going co cover real news without original reporting?

And who is going to pay for real reporters?

And real journalism?

Let’s get real.

January 05 2010

21:18

NEW DIGITAL NARRATIVES: iTABLET WORK IN PROGRESS (BOOK PUBLISHERS/COURSESMART)

2010-01-05_2117

As The Wall Street Journal reports, this video created by Coursesmart, a joint venture of five textbook publishers, shows how students might use tablet-based textbooks. It is based on their own renderings, not specific applications being developed with Apple.

CourseSmart plans to show this video at the Consumer Electonics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Founded in 2007, CourseSmart delivers new ways to access textbooks for instructors and students.

A eTextbooks reader with digital bookmarks!

See here the blog of CourseSmart.

November 29 2009

09:12

FAQ: How would paywalls affect advertisers? (and other questions)

More questions from a student that I’m publishing as part of the FAQ section:

1. If News Corp starts charging for news stories, do you think readers would pay or they would just go to different newspapers?

Both, but mostly the latter. Previous experiments with paywalls saw audiences drop between 60 and 97%. And you also have to figure in that a paywall will likely make content invisible to search engines (either directly or indirectly, because no one will link to them which will drop their ranking). Search engines are responsible for a significant proportion of visits (even the Wall Street Journal receives a quarter of its traffic from Google). Still, some people will always pay – the question is: how many?

2. A newspaper website which introduces paid content is very likely to see a decline in number of visitors. How would this affect advertisers and the amount they agree to pay to that website/newspaper?

Advertisers will pay more per user, firstly. Both because they will know more about that user through registration details (and therefore advertising will be more targeted), and also because they know that that user has paid to see content, making them both more engaged and likely to be more affluent.

Of course, there will be fewer of those users, so the challenge is compensating for the loss of quantity through the increase in quality.

3. In your opinion, how could the concept of ‘charging for content’ affect the quality of journalism?

The interesting thing about the recent announcement by the editor of The Times is that he said they wouldn’t charge per article because that would influence their commitment to expensive journalism such as covering Sri Lanka.

An optimist would hope that charging for content would mean that a news organisation would focus more on unique journalism that doesn’t replicate what is available elsewhere for free. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see that happen, at least in the near future.

It’s worth pointing out that many web operations churn out content because the advertising rates are so low they need to get as many views as possible.

On the flip side, if your paywall is preventing you from attracting enough readers to fund decent journalism, then you save the same problem.

More generally, putting up a paywall means that your journalism is seen – and criticised – by fewer people, which I would argue does present a quality issue. The future of journalism is collaborative, so if you’re putting up barriers you’re not enabling that opportunity to tap into the enormous knowledge in your former audience.

4. Do you think other newspaper publishers would follow News Corp and start charging for content or there would always be “free” places for news?

If News Corp makes it viable, then yes, others will surely follow. Until then I think almost all will sit back and see what happens with News Corp. But there will always be free places for news for a range of reasons: firstly, publicly funded organisations like the BBC and those with a social remit such as The Guardian; secondly, those funded by voluntary or foundation income such as The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and organisations like Amnesty; and finally, passionate citizens and those who simply like to chat.

5. Do you think that ‘charging for content’ is a vital business model which would last for long time?

I think it’s a business model that can work in some circumstances, if managed intelligently. The FT, for example, seems to be making it work, mainly because that content is financially valuable (I’d argue it’s information they’re charging for rather than content) but also because they’ve not cut it off entirely.

But broadly I think it’s the most difficult model because people never paid for ‘content’; they paid for a package and a service that included content. They bought a newspaper, not ‘the news’.

As for its longer term viability, as the means of production and distribution become more widely available, and advertisers themselves become content producers, it’s going to be increasingly difficult, and we’ll see increasing pressure on government to legislate to shore up publishers’ monopolies because of that, I fear.

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