Tag Archives: newspapers

The Vision Thing and the Crowd Thing

20 Jul

I was reading Jeff Jarvis’ post reacting to the news that BusinessWeek is up for sale, and it got me thinking.  It seems to me that The News Media have two editorial/journalistic paths to address what the Web hath wrought:

1) The Vision Thing — Have an editorial vision and express it.  Deliver great journalistic product. Build community around “fans” of that vision. See The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and many, many independent news blogs.

2) The Crowd Thing — Have a brand that attracts an audience.  Have a brand that attracts and engages those readers — and encourages them to contribute. Deliver content that drives community reaction and builds audience.

The Vision focused media will need to see getting people to pay for their content as their primary source of revenue.

The Crowd focused  media will need to view delivering an audience to advertisers as their primary source of revenue, whether that is through links and clicks, affiliate relationships or advertising.

The Vision folks will reduce costs by not being over concerned with perfect  alignment with their readers, as Stephen Baker recounts the typical editorial process at BusinessWeek.   They will create ways to listen to readers, and for readers to interact with each other and the editorial staff, so that editorial is inherently in touch with readers, readers feel “a part of something.  And the product may challenge and annoy the readers as well.

The Crowd folks will play the vital role of filtering the news to meet the perceived interests of their audience. They will give up a measure of control to the audience itself — putting journalistic effort behind what interests the crowd and and bringing editorial standards to crowd-sourced reporting.

Newspapers cling to a Vision while dipping their toes into the chilly waters of the Crowd.  Media with a Vision risk trying to hard to activate a Crowd that would prefer to be engaged.

And since these days, every organization is a media organization — what path will your company take — will you drive your Vision, or run with the Crowd?

Re-thinking the News, Part 3

7 Jan

Adam Singer left an excellent response on my previous post.  He wrote, in part:

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it random. Take FriendFeed, for instance. If you follow smart people, you’ll get smart links. Follow people who are into LOLcats and you’ll get a bunch of randomness that may or may not add value.

“Not saying there is anything wrong with LOLcats, but you see what I’m saying. You can piece together your own editorial team made up of everyone from scientists to marketing people to botanists. In essence, as professionals we are defining the information we find valuable. That’s the future.”

Which all sounds very cool. But (if I’m warping the Meatball Sundae metaphor correctly) isn’t this “editorial team”, however carefully chosen, serving up the whip topping on the much more expensive and time-consuming work of professional reporters writing stories, and the editors and organizations who confer credibility on what these reporters report?

Here’s the thing:  We need high-quality professional news organizations. We need journalists. We need the news organizations that, till recently, resided most resolutely at daily newspapers.  

The problem is that they believe we need them.

The daily newspaper is a public service masquerading as a business masquerading as a public service. As a service, daily news reporters take it as their duty to define and report and agenda set and comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and maybe educate, inform and entertain while they’re doing so. As a business, the news is an enticement that fills the spaces between the ads.  As a service, daily newspapers provide a vital service to democracy, challenging government excess and empowering the public with knowledge.  As a business, the newspaper delivers potential customers with folks who have something to sell. 

Back in journalism school, we talked about the business and journalism sides of a news organization as like church and state — separated by something as powerful as the Constitution, no less. But when the proliferation of media challenges whether the daily newspaper is necessary in its current form, it brings the business side back into the news room. 

And when business looks closely today, you see that the service of journalism in a daily newspaper is completely separate from what it sells. For newspapers, this is no longer a viable business model.  For anyone else, it’s questionable.  

I’m far more interested in saving news organizations and jouralism than I am newspapers. The question is, how can you maintain — fund — vital, vibrant local news organizations?  I don’t know the answer — plenty of smart folks have spent far more time on this issue … But, if I were trying to market a newspaper today, I’d start rethinking the newspaper like this: 

First, I’d embrace the idea of “The News Paper.” Call it “rebranding” if you must.  Pitch the paper as representing the unique point of view of a smart, dedicated, team of professional journalists focused on delivering “The News” in our community.  It’s not about expressing opinions — it’s about expressing a point of view.  The News Paper offers a unique perspective on what’s important today for our community — whether that’s local or around the world — and the people, trends and institutions who shape that community — for good or ill.  Stop pretending to be objective, stop acting like reading the newspaper is the right thing for responsible citizens to do, and stop apologizing for printing it on paper by chasing every new technology for reading the news.  Embrace the idea that you, as a team of journalists, are in the business of creating a news product that people want.

Then, raise prices. If it’s worth producing, people can pay for it. Think about increasing prices for corporate subscriptions as well, or making deals for businesses in to pay increased but reasonable prices to share the newspaper in public places. Yeah, you’d lose some readers, but you’re running a business here. If businesses don’t see you as a customer deliver vehicle, they are not advertising. If they aren’t advertising and they’re not buying the product you’re producing, where does that leave you? Exactly where you are today…

Open up the news process in a big way.  Online, share transcripts and post audio of interviews. Let readers in on the decision-making process of what becomes the news — not just by writing articles about it, but by, say, streaming the editorial meeting in video, or running a daily morning chat with interested readers.  

Bring in more voices.  Take advantage of infinite space online to offer a forum to a wide range of community voices — not just the unmoderated rabble of news article forums but articles and blogs and vlogs chosen by the smart folks who run the paper. 

Rethink format and frequency. What would readers choose if the the newspaper embraced high-speed on-demand digital printing? Could we print the paper we want at a local kiosk?  Would some StarTribune readers, for example, cut out Variety and International news, because they get their entertainment and international news elsewhere? Or would they appreciate the local editors’ choices as part of their chosen editorial team?  

I wouldn’t offer “just the news we want” … I’d offer the the chance to read our great product on a variety of topics.

And, maybe just start over.  What if, as a local newspaper business executive, you seeded a brand new news organization.  One that could restart the business of covering the community from the ground up. Give them a year to create their own business model, one that embraced the web and its economies as well as journalism and its professional traditions. What would they create? Could they sell it?

The result, I think, would be more investigative journalism, an organization more engaged with its community … and, as a result, one that is more valuable to its community.

Your turn!

Next up:  A few links to what I’ve been reading on the subject of late…

Re-Thinking the News – Part 2

16 Dec

The StarTribune in Minneapolis is one of those newspapers in deep trouble.  Actually, it’s a business in deep trouble. Reading David Brauer’s reports on MinnPost about StarTribune layoffs … well, as a guy likes to think the best of people I hope that there’s a lot we don’t know about how things are being managed at our premier local news organization.

Because from the outside, I get this familiar twinge I used to feel when a client, or my own agency, would respond to business challenges by cutting staff, restricting options and depressing employee spirits, rather than investing in the change and innovation needed to turn things around.  Now, while our local news organization is investing in shiny new mobile technology, it otherwise may well  be out of financial options.  Even so, cost cutting your way to growth has never seemed like a winning strategy.  

Meanwhile, my wife and I were talking about the news business the other day (an admirable thing for her to do with me, since I think about this stuff all the time and am thus I suspect am pretty insufferable when talking to those who don’t).  Her take was that while it’s great to be able to get the news you want on the topics you choose, you lose the opportunity to be surprised by what’s in the paper.  

Now one can argue the point … and many do (although the fellow at this link admits to being deliberately provocative). For myself, I’d point out that if the web had only given me Google and  Boing Boing,  my access to interesting and informative stuff would have been expanded dramatically and happily.  As it is, the social web is far more than that.  

But there’s a difference between selecting headlines on a screen — a tiny screen, at times — and scanning full stories in print, chosen by professional journalists and editors, and in that difference, she says, there is something lost that isn’t entirely made up for by random tweets, blog links, emails and the wisdom of crowds.

On the face of it, I agree. Newspapers are built around the idea of setting community agenda, of being “The News.”  Journalism is a profession, and for some, a calling.  It’s at least as much public service than a business.  

And the great news organizations supported for so long by the newspaper business will never thrive again until they get around the problem of this premise. 

Next…Some ideas…

Re-Thinking the News, Part I

15 Dec

I was pretty much  in my own little world this weekend.  Apparently, there was some sort of giant storm that is incapacitating the Northeast, including Massachusetts, where I have a number of close friends.  I hope they’ll forgive  me for not checking in:  I didn’t know.  In fact, I still wouldn’t know but that I happened to catch a bitter tweet on Twitter by a public radio journalist lamenting that fact that our local StarTribune newspaper didn’t think the Northeast storm worth mentioning. 

“Hmph!” I thought … our paper is focused on the local, and why shouldn’t they be — they need to focus on some sort of distinctive model that will make them money, right?  And newspapers don’t set the agenda anymore, do they? Why shouldn’t I get the news from Twitter?

Why shouldn’t I? Drop by tomorrow for Part II…

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Blogger’s Note:  I have a long thought to spin out, so I’m breaking it up into a couple posts…let me know if you like the style…and, of course, the posts…

Ken

Murdoch on Newspapers

17 Nov

The media are reporting some Insightful and provacative comments by media magnate Rupert Murdoch on the predicament of newspapers in the web 2.0 age.  Murdoch believes traditional news organizations have been far too contemptuous of bloggers in particular.  In an increasingly engaged media environment, being contemptuous of bloggers is essentially contempt for your customers — never a good marketing plan.  

However Murdoch does believe that “the news” has a future…as reported in c|net

Despite the blemishes, however, Murdoch said newspapers can still count on circulation gains “if papers provide readers with news they can trust.” He added they will also need to embrace technology advances like RSS feeds and targeted e-mails. The challenge, according to Murdoch, will be to “use a newspaper’s brand while allowing readers to personalize the news for themselves-and then deliver it in the ways that they want.”

“The newspaper, or a very close electronic cousin, will always be around. It may not be thrown on your front doorstep the way it is today. But the thud it makes as it lands will continue to echo around society and the world,” he said.  

For the most part, major papers have taken some strides in doing what Murdoch suggests in terms of RSS feeds, emails and personalization.  It hasn’t led to financial stability.  But his overall point is a good one, and one I’ve made before in this blog:  the market will eventually find a way to support professional news organizations that deliver trusted news … in ways that will allow bloggers to complement “the news” rather than replace it.

Keepsakes

5 Nov

UPDATED WITH LINKS!

After a hard fought election, an inspiring finish. I stayed up late in front of the TV and the laptop to take it all in.  This morning, my kids asked me who won.  Before answering, I ran barefoot to the mailbox to show them the story in headlines. My wife likes to  keep the papers from major events: We have Clinton’s impeachment, 9/11/2001, our kids’ birthdays.  We’ll add today’s StarTribune to the collection. 

It got me thinking:  Do you get the same thrill, the same sense of history, when you click on your web browser? When newspapers are gone, what will you  hold onto to pass along that sense of history?  If you’ve given up the paper, what will be your keepsake?

UPDATE:  I’m not the only one who’s noticed the power of newspapers when history’s being made: 

Gawker:  It’s a great day to be a newspaper 

News Cut Blog:  Are the headlines up to the historic task? 

BusinessWeek’s Brand Blog:  Newstands sold out in Ann Arbor…

Media Romp

5 May

This morning, let’s take a drive through the sticky business of The Newspaper, shall we?

Our tour today takes us to my hometown StarTribune newspaper, one with a fine jouranlistic tradition, one of late put in the service of an advertising strategy and debt payoff — never a great combination.

Today, the StarTribune’s investor-owners are in their own media hotseat , fending off a New York Post story that claimed the paper wasn’t paying its debts, and claiming that the paper on the brink of bankruptcy.  Their response:  No, but we’ve hired the Blackstone Group to look at our options.

The problem for the StarTribune is simple:  Advertising is going elsewhere. In a media environment rapidly moving online and to search, newspapers are stuck with a business model that is just not working.

The recent State of the News Media 2008 report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism is telling.  On advertising, the report quotes a major media buyer:

“We used to be in the trucking business. We used to take ads and commercials and deliver them,” says Charlie Rutman, CEO of North American Operations at MPG, which controls over $3 billion in U.S. ad spending annually.

While ad executives know that trucking analogy is no longer accurate, they aren’t really sure what is replacing it.

Craig’s List, online ad sales and employment websites have decimated the the classified market.  And according to the report, newspapers’ print versus online ad ratio still lingers at around 90 percvent versus 10 percent.

The StarTribune is in the same trouble — according to today’s article, as of March 31, circulation dropped 6.7 percent from the previous six months, annual revenue dropped $75 million between early 2005 and early 2007, and classified ads were half the level they were at in 2000.

The question to me isn’t so much one of how their ads are going to make up for the loss, but how their going to continue supporting continuation of a tradition of good journalism in this community — and every other community that has enjoyed the benefits of having good a good paper in town.

The StarTribune’s most recent change in strategy was to create localized sections for various suburban regions.  That strategy seems to be sagging.  While there seems to be strong coverage lately of Edina parents complaining about families wanting to transfer into their great schools, my Twin Cities West section today has these front page stories:

> Someone in Rice County won the lottery.

> Committees talking about tackling Downtown Minneapolis crime.

> A Hopkins school teacher winning teacher of the year (nice, but should have been on page 1 — maybe in place of the ‘what kids are reading’ list from the Washington Post).

> A story on teens in Hudson, Wisc. putting photos of themselves unclothed online, based on no discernable news hook.

I’d be shocked if these are the kinds of must-read, hyper-local stories that will hook readers and draw ad dollars (and I promise to read this section the rest of the week and eat my words if I must).

The StarTribune has continued to try addition by subtraction — the number of excellent journalists no longer working at our local papers could make for a great news operation.  As we’ve seen across multiple industries, you thrive and grow not just by cutting back, but in doing so, concentrating on your core — doing what you do best and doing it better than anyone else.  It may require the painful process of starting over — recasting the organization not around generating double-digit profit margins but on how, if you were starting today, would you create a sustainable organization to support excellent locally based journalistm.

And this is a time when the values of professional journalism — of professional news gathering organizations — have never been more needed.  We need folks who can ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ Who can question authority and call out those in power when their abusing them.  And, frankly, we need journalists who are professionals — who can cover local news with more commitment and perspective than your typical citizen journalist.  Whatever their many faults, professional news organizations are structured to cover news, get answers, check facts and most always get their stories right.

Call me old fashioned, but there’s a need for this.  There may not be a need for trees to fall, factories to belch smoke and waste and trucks to roll hither and yon just so a folded sheaf of smelly ink and newsprint can land in my mailbox every morning, but there’s more need than ever for the content and commitment it represents.

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