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August 21 2012


Why Did So Many News Outlets Not Link to Pussy Riot Video?

The Russian punk band Pussy Riot must have done something really bad to merit a possible seven years in prison, I figured. Finding all descriptions of their behavior to be filled with euphemism, I wanted to see their offensive behavior myself.

Who do you turn to when you want to see the world as it is, rather than the world as others tell you it is? My parents would have turned on network television. Or read the Progress-Bulletin or Daily Report. I went to YouTube and searched for "PussyRiot" and watched what struck me as the video of the actions I had heard about second- and third-hand. The video, I thought, was edited in such a way that made both the church and the band look like victims, depending on your point of view. To me, that was a good indication of its authenticity.

But I don't really know, and I trust sources like the New York Times, and especially its reporters on the ground in Moscow, to tell me whether what I'm really seeing is accurate. So I next went to nytimes.com and its story. The Times had links to videos. But a quick look around the other five top news sites in the U.S showed that it was the only popular publication that linked to the videos of the band's action that landed it in prison for three months while awaiting trial. So why was the Times the only source to have linked to the video? And what does that news organization's unusual behavior mean?

a lack of links

The other sites -- Yahoo News, Huffington Post, ABC News, NBC News and USA Today -- failed me. These are sites that are both praised and vilified as "aggregators" or "MSM." But all made the same editorial decision -- and didn't help their audience see the key fact of this case for itself.

But I wonder why the link wasn't made? The people who work there are professionals. And I have no reason to believe they are more or less immoral than I am.

Going back more than a decade, academic studies have found that few news stories actually link to source information. In 2001, one in 23 stories about the Timothy McVeigh execution linked to external sources. And a 2010 study indicates that U.S. journalists are less inclined to link to foreign sources than domestic sources, with fewer than 1 percent of foreign new stories on U.S. news sites containing links in their stories.

So, why?

Two prominent academic studies seem to indicate that the presence of inbound and outbound links increase credibility in both professional and amateur sites. Are professional journalists unaware of those studies? Are they aware, but think they're bunk?

One study indicates that journalists don't link because they are concerned about the financial implications -- that users who leave the site will not return to drive up ad impressions. Another seems to indicate that U.S. journalists are particularly skeptical of foreign sources of news because they are less confident of their own ability to judge the credibility of foreign sources.

enhancing credibility

From my experience in online newsrooms, both those findings seem plausible. But they also seem incomplete. My own additional hypothesis is that hyperlinking has been left primarily to automation and that editors and reporters who've been asked for the last decade to "do more with less" have decided that links to original source material -- which, at least according to a few studies, enhance their credibility, are not worth their time.

But other studies have shown that hyperlinks in the text of a story distract readers -- even the small percentage of readers who click on the links -- and reduce reading comprehension. That said, I suspect the journalists who didn't include links to the Pussy Riots videos are completely unaware of such studies (which are summarized nicely throughout Nicholas Carr's book "The Shallows."

If there's credit to be given in The New York Times' decision to include the links in the story, then it goes to the reporter in Moscow, David Herzenhorn, according to three sources who work at the Times. The role that Herzenhorn played is important. This was a task not left to an editor or producer in New York, but one that the Moscow correspondent took upon himself. The links add to his credibility.

"I have to say I am completely floored that other news organizations would not link to the videos, since they explain so much about the story," Kyle Crichton, the editor who worked on the story, wrote to me in response to an email query.

My rather slack Friday afternoon efforts to obtain comment from other news organizations that didn't link to the videos yielded no responses. I still hope to hear from them in hopes of understanding whether the lack of links was merely an oversight or a conscious omission. Herzenhorn also did not reply to my email on late Friday.

The reporter -- and at this point he, rather than his employer, deserves credit for the links -- selected the more popular Russian-language versions on YouTube rather than the English subtitled versions, which had fewer views but would be more useful to the Times' English-language audience.

"There is some profanity on the soundtrack, so I presume that is why David chose not to include [the videos with English subtitles]," Crichton said in his email to me. "That strikes me as fair, since the text isn't as important as the overall spectacle of their 'performance.'"

the political impact of linking

I also wondered what the political impact of including such links might be. I've had
newsroom conversations about whether linking to a source constitutes endorsement. The modern version of this is manifested in newsroom social media policies that discourage journalists from re-tweeting information from sources and in Twitter bios that say "RT ≠ endorsement."

I teach my students, and write in Chapter 7 of "Producing Online News," that links in a story are akin to quotes. You're responsible for the facts of the source's statement, but not the opinions. And stories without links today seem as incomplete as stories without quotes from named sources have always been.

In foreign stories, though, links to banned material could have an effect on both the news
organization's ability to distribute news and on its reporters' ability to collect it. Crichton wasn't concerned.

"I don't think our including the videos will have any impact on our future ability to report in Russia," Crichton said in his email to me. "If it were Iran, maybe, but Russia isn't like that, yet."

What discussion to you have in your newsroom about including or excluding links? If you aren't having any, consider consulting with -- and funding -- the mass communication researchers who can help you make your journalism more credible, more memorable and more useful.

Related links:

August 01 2012


Christopher Daly’s “Covering America” brings journalism and technology full circle

Mark Twain’s latter-day career as a public speaker had its origins in a hulking mass of metal and wood. The Paige Compositor, as it was known, set type 60 percent faster than the Linotype machines of the 1880s. Twain sunk a fortune into James Paige’s invention. But the Linotype already had a head start in the newspaper industry, and the Paige units proved too temperamental for heavy use. Paige died broke. Twain declared bankruptcy — and hit the lecture circuit.

As the story of the Paige Compositor suggests, the evolution of journalism is closely intertwined with technological change. Improvements in printing presses gave rise in the 1830s to the penny press, bringing a mass audience to newspapers. The telegraph and the photograph revolutionized the news business, and radio and television turned it upside-down. Of course, it scarcely needs to be said that technology is now transforming the practice and even the meaning of journalism.

At this moment of existential crisis and boundless opportunity, Boston University journalism professor Christopher B. Daly has come along to provide some valuable historical context. His new book, Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism (University of Massachusetts Press), is, at root, a comprehensive history stretching from Benjamin Harris and his one-off 1690 newspaper, Publick Occurrences, to Joshua Micah Marshall and his pioneering political website, Talking Points Memo. (Disclosure: Daly is a friendly acquaintance.)

The strength of Covering America is Daly’s emphasis on story. In a genre awash in mind-numbing recitations of names and dates, Daly has pared matters down to their essentials and given his characters room to breathe. (The book comprises 461 pages, not counting footnotes.) The result is ample space for people who deserve it. To name just a few, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Dorothy Thompson, Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle are all discussed at some length.

But it is Daly’s attention to larger forces, including technology, that makes Covering America stand out. He writes about matters I had never heard of before. Learning about the role of urine in Colonial-era printing shops left me gobsmacked. Trust me on this: Life as a printer’s apprentice in the 18th century was nasty, brutish, and malodorous.

More substantively, I was fascinated with some statistics Daly offers on the cost of launching a newspaper. In 1835, he writes, James Gordon Bennett started the New York Herald with $500. By 1851, the cost of entering the newspaper market had risen so much that Henry Raymond had to lay out $100,000 to start the New-York Daily Times. Several decades later, Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and Adolph Ochs all paid between about $350,000 and $500,000 to purchase and reinvigorate their papers.

Those rising sums, though, were pocket change to what Gannett paid to start USA Today in the 1990s — about $200 million in annual losses over five years before the paper finally broke even. “In all likelihood,” Daly writes, “the $1 billion figure will stand as the all-time highest barrier for entry into the news business, if for no reason other than that there will probably never be a launch of a daily newspaper on that scale again.” Indeed, Daly notes that Ted Turner spent a fraction of that amount in launching CNN and steering it to profitability.

But if technological change was responsible for underfunded visionaries such as Bennett being replaced by wealthy moguls such as Hearst and, finally, by publicly traded corporations such as Disney and Comcast, technology is now fueling a new era of small-scale media entrepreneurialism. At the national level, Josh Marshall, Matt Drudge, Arianna Huffington, and others have demonstrated that it’s possible to create alternatives to mainstream journalism. At the regional and local level, hundreds of websites are reporting on their communities — although, at this early stage, only a few are large enough to deploy paid journalists.

Given that these projects share some DNA with the tiny newspapers that blinked on and off during the 18th and early 19th centuries, their proprietors might consider the journalistic philosophy articulated by Benjamin Franklin in his “Apology for Printers,” published not long after he started the Pennsylvania Gazette. It’s well worth reading in full, but here’s a sample:

Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.

This is journalism as a community forum — an outlet for civic engagement where people can come together and discuss issues of importance to them. Daly rightly calls it “one of the most extraordinary documents in the history of American journalism, one of the bedrock statements of its philosophy.” It’s an old idea that’s new again, and it’s at the heart of independent local news projects such as the New Haven Independent, The Batavian, Voice of San Diego and others.

In retrospect, we can see that two or three decades ago, when the media were at their richest and most powerful, they were also at their most profoundly lost. Daly describes a time of bottomless expense accounts, ever-rising profit margins, and a journalistic elite that was entirely out of touch with the public it supposedly served.

Thus perhaps the most significant development described by Daly is that technology, after pushing journalism from small, cheap and interactive to massive, expensive, and top-down, is now helping us to return to something like Franklin’s original vision.

Maybe few will get rich in the new media world that’s being created. But if journalists become less arrogant, more willing to listen, more connected to their communities, then we will have gained something of infinitely greater importance.

Dan Kennedy is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on Beat the Press, a weekly media program on WGBH-TV Boston. His blog, Media Nation, is online at www.dankennedy.net. His book on the New Haven Independent and other community news sites, The Wired City, will be published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2013.

Sponsored post

July 28 2012


$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 20 2012


Leonie Industries allegedly ran a smear campaign against two USA Today reporters

Gawker :: Last night USA Today reported that two of its staffers, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, were the targets of a smear campaign (via fake accounts on Twitter/Facebook). The USA Today story on the mischief names only "Pentagon contractors" as likely culprits. But a source familiar with the story confirms that the contractor responsible is Leonie Industries, an information operations company with more than $90 million in Army contracts in Afghanistan. Leonie was the primary target of the investigation that apparently sparked the sculduggery:

[Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, USA Today, 2/29/2012:] ... Contractors like Leonie plant unattributed broadcasts, plaster the countryside in war zones with billboards, stage concerts and drop leaflets with the intent of bending the will of civilians and combatants to U.S. aims. ...

Continue to read John Cook, gawker.com


Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts: Misinformation campaign targets USA TODAY

USA Today :: A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites. Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names.

Continue to read Gregory Korte, www.usatoday.com

April 17 2012


Digital-print divide: Gannett profit falls 25pc on newspaper ad decline

Associated Press | New York Times :: The Gannett Company reported a 25% decline in first-quarter profit on Monday, as advertising in its newspapers continued to decline. The company, which owns 82 newspapers in the United States, including USA TODAY; 23 broadcast television stations; and several digital media properties, said it earned $68.2 million, or 28 cents a share, in the quarter, down from $90.5 million, or 37 cents a share, a year earlier.

[Gannett, First Quarter Results:] The company’s continued focus on digital solutions for its advertisers drove an increase of 12.5 percent in Publishing segment digital revenues (included in all of the categories above). Online revenues were up 13.5 percent at domestic publishing operations while at Newsquest they were 6.4 percent higher, in pounds. Digital revenues at U.S. Community Publishing were 11.2 percent higher driven by increases in auto, employment and retail. USA TODAY and its associated businesses reported digital revenue growth of 25.3 percent.

Continue to read Associated Press, www.nytimes.com

Gannett Reports First Quarter Results 04/16/2012, www.gannett.com, (PDF direct link)

February 28 2012


From Salinas to Burlington: Can an army of paywalls big and small bouy Gannett?

Brick wall with window

Gannett is mounting the biggest campaign yet to make readers pay for journalism online. And the newspaper company’s size means its success or failure could ripple throughout the marketplace.

By the end of the year Gannett plans to launch digital subscriptions for almost all of its newspapers, a kind of unified paywall that would operate on the web, mobile and tablets and cover 80 of the company’s news sites, with the exception of national flagship USA Today.

For newspapers it may signal a turning point, since readers are now looking around the marketplace and finding fewer free papers. That doesn’t mean a change in the amount of free news (aggregation and sharing remain rampant), but it could have an effect on people’s perception, or even willingness, to pay for news. It’s like looking around for cheap gas in your neighborhood: If all the stations list unleaded at $3.85, you’re more likely to believe $3.85 is the going rate for fuel.

Until now there has been no paywall rollout of this scale for U.S. newspapers, with most digital subscription plans emerging piecemeal at places like The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and The Boston Globe. The Gannett plan reaches readers across 30 states (and Guam!). In other words, the number of paywalls in the United States will jump dramatically, as well as the number of people exposed to them.

Gannett is pushing a total digital transformation, not just a paid content strategy.

Like all paywalls, the success of Gannett’s plan largely hinges on people’s willingness to pay for news online. (That, and how easy it is to pay. More on that in a bit.) The company is betting readers will pony up, projecting at least $100 million from the new subscription program by next year.

The paywall should be easily scalable, since Gannett likes to take advantage of consolidating resources within the newspaper group. The paywall mechanics and back end will be the same for all 80 papers, but details about pricing and metered access get decided on the local level. Gannett’s papers run the gamut of small to big, and no two communities are alike when accounting for factors like Internet use and penetration of mobile devices. That’s likely why the company began testing digital subscriptions at select papers in St. Cloud, Minn., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Lafayette, Ind., among others.

If Gannett has any data about its paywall experiments, it’s keeping it quiet. (The company has, however, been preparing employees to answer questions about the change.) Since the paywall test sites were announced in 2010, no numbers have been released on subscribers or circulation revenues. So what have they learned? Here’s what a Gannett spokesperson told me via email:

On the previous pilots, we learned a lot about consumer engagement and willingness to pay for unique local content from our experiments in Greenville, Tallahassee and St. George. This new model builds on that, responding to consumer demand to have the news and information they value available on whatever platform they choose. Obviously, we feel those early tests were successful or we wouldn’t be building a new subscription model around those learnings. However, we are not going to discuss confidential business data at this time.

Gannett is pushing a total digital transformation, not just a paid content strategy. There will be dozens of tablet and phone apps, which, aside from color schemes and branding, will likely look and work similar across the 80 properties. Again, Gannett’s size is a boon for small and mid-sized papers, as the company can bring them to market faster than the individual papers could have alone. As tablet usage continues to grow, apps or other digital access can incentivize digital subscriptions.

There is some evidence that paywalls for small and mid-sized newspapers can succeed, or at least shore up circulation and not be a drag on revenues. At the same time, in some cities a paywall has boosted circulation of the Sunday paper in particular (the “Frank Rich Discount”). Newspapers in Memphis and Minneapolis have seen bumps in the Sunday circulation, but for others that increase has has yet to fully materialize.

For each community it comes down to how a digital subscription plan is executed, said Ken Doctor, a media analyst and the Lab’s resident expert in Newsonomics. Specifically, he said, it’s a question of how to charge readers, existing versus new, or whether to offer a print discount versus an additional charge for web access.

“What Gannett is saying is, ‘We think we can bump revenues by 10 percent from essentially being flat.’”

For other publishers the decision is simple: Increase subscription prices across the board and promote the value of bundled access to mobile, tablet and desktop. Taking all of that into consideration, and Gannett’s $100 million calculation, doesn’t seem impossible. “What Gannett is saying is, ‘We think we can bump revenues by 10 percent from essentially being flat’,” Doctor said.

Hitting that target is easy when you factor in the conversion of existing print subscribers to digital subscribers. The challenge for most local and regional papers with paywalls is bringing in new readers, who are getting their news elsewhere. And most people signing up for digital subscriptions are older readers, he said. “I haven’t heard of any regional paper that produces substantial digital only customer numbers and revenue numbers,” Doctor said. These are problems that point to whether paywalls can have long term success for locally focused journalism.

Since each site has the ability to determine the pricing for its subscription plan, there will undoubtedly be tension between what individual markets will bare and what the mothership needs to improve its bottom line. For Gannett, one paper’s success with digital subscriptions can be another paper’s failure. The fate of Gannett’s plan rests in whether the Sioux Falls Argus Leaders of the world offset the likes of The Indianapolis Star or Cincinnati Enquirer.

Image by Darwin Bell used under a Creative Commons license

January 07 2012


Guess: Which British or US newspapers received subsidies from the Danish government?

Many a little makes a mickle. 

Guardian :: Would you believe it? Four British newspapers are among 26 foreign titles that will receive subsidies from the Danish government this year. The quartet of British beneficiaries are the Financial Times, which will get £78,500 (€95,171 / $121,086), The Guardian (£795 / €963 / $1,226), The Times (£350 / €424 / $539) and The Independent (£325 / €394 / $501). Two big US papers will also pick up subsidies from the Danish Press Fund: the International Herald Tribune (£27,000 / €32,734 / $41,647) and USA Today (£150 / €181 / $231).

Continue to read Greenslade, www.guardian.co.uk

January 05 2012


January 04 2012


USA Today becomes latest publisher to embrace Kindle Fire with custom app

paidContent :: Amazon’s Kindle Fire continues to draw interest from publishing companies, including ones who have already embraced Android tablets. This time, USA Today has decided to launch a specialized app for the Kindle Fire despite having already developed an Android tablet application.

USA Today’s new Kindle Fire app is further proof that publishers are taking separate approaches to the Kindle Fire, which will probably wind up as the best-selling Android tablet released over the past year, and other Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom or Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Continue to read Tom Krazit, paidcontent.org

December 19 2011


Most print newspapers will be gone in 5 years - Is America at a digital turning point?

USC Annenberg :: (From a report to be issued early January 2012) - Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future claims that most print newspapers will be gone in five years.

Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Cole. It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.

[Jeffrey I. Cole: ] The impending death of the American print newspaper continues to raise many questions. Will media organizations survive and thrive when they move exclusively to online availability?  How will the changing delivery of content affect the quality and depth of journalism?

Continue to read annenberg.usc.edu

December 08 2011


From homelessness to hometown title fight

The Peterson brothers rise from homelessness to professional boxers thanks to their head trainer Barry Hunter (center). Photo by Garrett Hubbard/USA TODAY

Tears, sweat, and love. But it was mostly love that propelled Lamont Peterson to the upcoming World Championship title fight this Saturday at the Convention Center in D.C. I met the Peterson brothers Monday night and took this portrait as well as made a quick video story. Watch to my story video here or read more about their story here.

July 28 2011


What the h... is ROIII? - Insights into USA Today's social media strategy

Omniture and Adobe produced a (promotional) webcast about how to create social media fans on Facebook & Twitter. The webcast part I was interested in, was the one covering insights into USA Today's social media strategy, introducing ROIII, or Return on interaction, influence, and investment. Before USA Today even started to turn to social media they set up an interdisciplinary team from various departments, including marketing, IT and editorial staff. Marketing took the lead and trained Editorial colunnists, reporters, bloggers, etc. But listen yourself or download the transcript of the webcast directly from their site. The webcast can be downloaded to watch on an iPod, or as Quicktime movie or mp4.

[Jeff Wiegand, USA Today, webcast, 31:00:] We really want to be part of the conversation now ... (instead of only publishing updates, which is old school journalism

Continue to watch the presentation www.omniture.com

Download a transcript of the webcast via www.omniture.com/download (PDF)

May 12 2011


The newsonomics of old dipsy-doo

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.

Fifteen years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education put up its first paywall. Since then, the wall’s developed lots of cracks — most of them intentional ones, as the U.S.’ most trusted voice on university and college coverage evolves its digital offerings, who it charges, and how it charges. For all the change it’s seen in those 15 years, what’s been tried seems like prologue as the company moves into the iPad and mobile age — and as it tries to figure out how best to drive up revenue in the confusing push-pull of the digital world.

“It’s like the ESPN model,” says editor Jeff Selingo. “We connect the content to what people are actually willing to pay for.” Selingo came to the Chronicle 14 years ago, starting as a reporter, and now oversees an editorial staff of 75. He knows the daily newspaper world, having worked at two before moving into the world of education journalism.

The Chronicle’s approach, while distinctive, isn’t unique. Talk to execs at the Financial Times, Consumer Reports, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, or ESPN, and you hear the fruits of experience. They talk nuance and flexibility, not all-or-nothing paywalls.

How useful is the Chronicle’s experience to daily newspapers? Yes, the privately owned, 45-year-old Chronicle is something quite different, a high-end trade publication. (Though I do like newspaperman Pete Hamill’s description of the news business as “permanent grad school,” in his recent, highly recommended Fresh Air interview).

The trade, of course, is higher education. These are discerning readers, about half administrators and half faculty, who can be hard to please. As a must-read publication, with little direct competition (although seven-year-old online-only Inside Higher Ed is making a play for its audience and ads), the Chronicle has a market position many dailies would envy. Still a must-use for academic recruitment, from which it derives lots of ad revenue, it depends on circulation dollars for only about 20 percent of its overall income.

That said, it faces the same issues as everyone else in the print business. Three years ago, it had a circulation of more than 76,000, with 71,135 print and 5,157 digital subs. Its most recent count shows 66,000 total subscribers, but 16,020 of those are digital subs. (The Chronicle doesn’t do single-copy sales, but has expanded its site license program to colleges — so some of the “lost” subscribers now get delivery through their institution, but are uncounted.)

The Chronicle, too, is struggling with the increasingly familiar economics of transition, and with the irony is front of everyone in the business: It is reaching more readers than ever, courtesy of the web, but its business is struggling to grow.

So while trade publishing can differ from general news, the questions of how to make that digital transition, how to find workable hybrid models, and what kind of content to make free are fairly similar. The Chronicle has faced many of the same questions on pricing and access that newspapers are now knee-high into. Therein lie most of the lessons to be learned and applied in mid-2011.

It’s not a matter simply of to charge or not to charge, of allowing access to all proprietary (usually local) content or none of it. Or of setting the meter, and leaving it at a 20- or 25-article-per month level. Some of the early tests of paid digital access are stuck in a rut, as conservative experiments have retained large audiences but resulted in too little new revenue to be meaningful. The Chronicle’s nuances give publishers some new tools as some move on to Stage 2, and others are about to begin tests.

In talking with Selingo, who served on a recent ASNE panel I moderated on pay plans, I’ve picked out six key lessons from the Chronicle’s experience, collectively suggesting the newsonomics of the old dipsy-doo.

Why dipsy-doo? It’s a delightfully old-fashioned term, taking us back when people did what they could do to sell stuff. A dipsy-doo is a kind of twist, a zigzag take on getting something done. Starbucks doesn’t sell cooked coffee beans and Coke doesn’t sell brown, sugar water. They sell comfort, a piece of the good life, a good place to be.

News companies have always taken their selling too literally. They thought they were selling news, when in fact they’re selling currency, shopping deals, and packaged convenience. So, in this wannabe golden age of new digital content sales, we need to look for lots of examples of how and what newsy companies are selling. It’s not simply a matter of selling the stuff (staff-written local content) that cost you the most to produce; you sell the stuff for which people are most likely to pay you.

So, with that in mind, six learnings, down that road, from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Do the print/online dipsy-doo

Check out the Chronicle’s subscription page and you see two choices. One’s a print subscription ($82.50/year) and one’s a “digital” subscription ($72.50/year). Ah, the web’s cheaper than print, you say. Well, no. The digital sub is actually a replica e-edition, complete with the same advertising as the weekly print edition. You get online access to the Chronicle’s impressive site, with either sub. You have to take either the e-edition or the paper one to get the access, though.

You can see the same kind of print/digital hybrid thinking/pricing in The New York Times’ recent digital access pay scheme. By telling readers to pay up for digital access, the Times is leading its most loyal online customers back — the old dipsy-doo — to print. Readers have quickly figured out it’s better to order some print edition and get “included” digital access than to just pay for digital access. Lead customers one way — and then do a quick turn on them.

The Chronicle, with less competition than the Times, doesn’t even feel the need to offer “online-only” subs, though it will begin offering iPad-only subs through Apple’s App Store in June, testing that new market; it has already seen 14,000 downloads of its free app.

Make your wall artful

Selingo says that deciding what will premium (paid) and what free is more art than science. “We’re deciding on a day-to-day basis what’s distinctive.” The distinctive — more than mundane work that readers are unlikely to find elsewhere — may include any kind of story, investigative piece, or data. There is a lot of free content — 40 percent of the site, estimates the editor.

In data lies power

The Chronicle’s front-and-center Facts and Figures section offers lots of in-depth databases (“What Professors Make,” “Who Are the Undergraduates”) and these spur lots of readership. “The power is in data,” says Selingo. “The story [often the lead-in, sum-up] is the promotional piece.” That’s a lesson we’ve heard often from Everyblock to the Sacramento Bee to Dallas’ Pegasus News to California Watch (“The newsonomics of a single, investigative story,“), but one too little implemented at dailies.

“The differentiating factor is how we visualize, how we present,” says Selingo, giving credit to Ron Coddington, a veteran of USA Today and Knight Ridder Tribune, who now serves as the Chronicle’s assistant managing editor for visuals.

Play the clock

It’s not just what you put where, but what you make free when. Selingo says the Chronicle will sometimes put up a big data-impressive project, making it free for a week or two, knowing that its utility will entice readers to come back over time and read it. If they come back, and it’s now premium (or paid), then they’re more likely to pay up. Conversely, some content may be paid at the outset and then become free. The bigger notion: Get readers to use — and come to rely — on the site. Usefulness precedes ability to pay. Sampling is key.

One size does not fit all

Even as it has tested, twisted, and turned its techniques, Selingo believes that a lot more nuance should be tried. He talks about pricing “pieces of content” — packages here and there, some data products, maybe niche internationally oriented modules. The challenges there: deciding what to package, how to package it and how to price it — and doing that without a major investment in time or staff. This is the mastery of the medium- and long-tail to come, probably abetted by dynamic technologies. Why not, I wonder, let readers make their own packages, and enable algorithms to price them?

Work the funnel

The Chronicle of Higher Education, courtesy of the Internet, has an impressive funnel to work, like every other good news company. With Google, Facebook, and the rest of the relationship web feeding news sites traffic at an incomprehensible (literally) pace, it’s a matter of learning how to work that funnel on traffic. At the top end: 1.7 million monthly unique and 14.3 million page views that the Chronicle gets, according to Selingo. At the bottom end: those 66,000 subscribers.

On the one hand, that seems like an awfully small number, not quite four percent. On the other, it represents the huge opportunity of free web access, providing a constant stream of would-be customers — all monetizable to some degree by advertising, and a tiny percentage of whom who will become core paying customers.

It’s no coincidence that The New York Times’ math is similar: Get three percent of its monthly uniques to pay for digital access, one way or another, and the Times would get as many as 900,000 new subscribers.

It’s the new new math — more students needed.

April 29 2011


Royal Wedding: The big day

London was electric today. I cannot think of another way to say what it was like. One-million people were expected to descend on London today. However, one of my favorite parts of the whole week was the ceremony. I've been to a lot of weddings in my life and I absolutely loved their vows, readings, and words from the pulpit? I was reminded of the vows I made before God when I married my wife. Oh, and the songs from the choir were beautiful. BBC posted some of it, check out the transcript here. I admit that I teared up a little bit while I was photographing the thousands watching the wedding in Green Park which is right next door to Buckingham Palace. I focused my time on a little video story giving our readers a chance to experience the wedding through the eyes of some Americans and of course the Brits. I took one or two stills as well. What a day!

Audrey Joy, left, and Alyse Macqueh, both 16 and of France try to catch a glimpse of the royal couple in front of Buckingham Palace after the royal wedding ceremony. They came with face decorations with the initials of the royal couple as well as a miniature wedding cake. Some might call it a cupcake. Garrett Hubbard / USA TODAY

April 28 2011


Royal Wedding: Camping it up in royal style

Campers from all over the world gather to celebrate the Royal wedding from outside the city in Clapham Common. Garrett Hubbard / USA TODAY

Read the story here.

Royal Wedding: The Brits and their hats

Louis Mariette, a bespoke hat couture (read: fancy!) designer in his London studio with a hat inspired by the Lilac-Breasted Roller, the National bird of Botswana--where Mariette grew up. Garrett Hubbard / USA TODAY

Check out the story and video here

Check out more of his work on his website

The semi-official Will and Kate tour of London

Take a walk around London with the Prince William and Kate walking tour and learn about the history and upcoming wedding. Garrett Hubbard / USA TODAY

Jane Seymour's Royal Wedding British insight

British born actress Jane Seymour will offering her insights on the royal wedding for us Americans for Entertainment Tonight. Garrett Hubbard / USA TODAY

Check out the story here

"I love the smell of diamonds in the morning" says Jane Seymour on the set for Entertainment Tonight outside of Westminster Abbey at the royal wedding. Garrett Hubbard / USA TODAY
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