Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why not a "weekend edition"?

Is Saturday the new Sunday? Juan Antonio Giner says so, in reference to the announced beefing up of the London Times Saturday edition.

Which makes me wonder: in the executive suites of America's struggling metro newspapers, is anybody considering a combination of the Saturday and Sunday papers into a weekend edition distributed on Saturday morning? Some reasons to think about it:

1. Saturday is generally a pretty anemic paper, currently. It's probably as thin as Monday and Tuesday in most markets. If the newspaper is losing money or performing marginally overall, then Saturday is a loser, but Sunday is a winner. Eliminating Saturday, but shifting the whole Sunday package to Saturday distribution, cuts out a ton of cost.

2. Sunday is generally not a newsy edition, anyway, since it usually gets put to bed early Saturday night. Sunday's main news front delivers features and enterprise stories, rarely big breaking news. If big news does happen, most people are already going online for it, anyway.

3. Having the big weekend package on sale both Saturday and Sunday will boost single-copy sales in a big way—since Saturday is a big retail traffic day—especially if newspapers find new, non-traditional single copy outlets in the places shoppers congregate on Saturday. Back in the 1970s and 80s when a lot of papers converted from PM to AM, they discovered a similar effect: being on the newsstands all day long instead of just a few hours in the later afternoon boosted single-copy sales nicely. And weekend editions distributed on Saturday have worked well for a number of small, rural markets.

4. When the New York Times began allowing its suburban contractors to distribute the Sunday paper supplements and sections on Saturday, back in the 80s, I believe, reactions were positive—families have all weekend, not just Sunday, to peruse all that stuff. I assume this is done in other markets as well, these days. Consumers like it. But is anyone selling on the newsstands a package with all the Sunday innards on Saturday morning? Why not?

5. Isn't the beefed-up Sunday a relic from the 6-day work week, when Sunday was the only day people had actual leisure time?

Juan Antonio, a firm believer in print, probably won't agree that melding Saturday and Sunday into a weekend-long edition would be smart. But as more U. S. publishers contemplate the various "unthinkable" scenarios, this one could make a lot of sense and meet a generally positive consumer reaction. And perhaps it's a reasonable first step toward the inevitable transformation of most newspapers to online news enterprises with limited-distribution weekly or bi-weekly print editions (or their demise and replacement by such enterprises).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Common sense advice from Gina Chen

Gina Chen, a 20-year newspaper journalist and Family Life Editor at the Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, just started blogging about media this month at (She also blogs, prolifically, at her Post-Standard blog, Family Life.) SaveTheMedia has had only nine posts, so far, but add this one to your RSS feed. Right now.

Gina is not rehashing what every other journoblogger is talking about; she's putting up good, clear, basic advice on how front-line journalists can use new media. Here are some examples, but click through and read her extensive posts, in each case:

"How Journalists can use twitter:" "To me twitter is a way to connect with sources and readers in your community and on your beat. It’s a bit like chatting it up with the secretaries at the courthouse where you cover courts. You ask how her day was, how her daughter’s wedding went, and you develop a relationship of sorts. Then when the mayor gets indicted, you might be the person she tips off." See also: "How journalists can get started on twitter." And two more Twitter posts after that.

"Why journalists should blog." Seems elementary to us blogsters, but 90 percent of journalists don't do it (I'm guessing). Gina: "It connects with readers in a way a story doesn’t. It allows readers to interact immediately with you, the journalist, and other people who have read the post. It’s a personal medium that allows the journalist to come across as a human being, which sometimes can be difficult in a more traditional news story. Blogs are easy to read and fun, so they are a great way to communicate with readers."

"Tips for journalists naming a new blog." This is the kind of thing you don't think much about. But Gina does.

"10 Tips for journalists who blog." This is a must-read. I wish I had written it.

And, today: "A journalist's guide to search engine optimization." 10 more eminently sensible tips.

I'm looking forward to a lot more good stuff from Gina Chen.

(And I swear that before writing this, I had not read her complimentary comment on my previous post.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nuts and bolts: How newspapers can optimize use of social media

In my previous post (Tipping point: Online news overtakes print), I posed this question: How can newspapers raise the level of their online presence from being a simple, one-way content delivery medium, and have their sites become full-fledged "means of collaboration, creation and curation" (Jeff Jarvis's characterization of the internet)?

In other words, how can newspapers (after making sure they've built a truly online-first newsroom) leverage the social networking power of the internet? And why is that important?

Well, how are they doing, first of all? Last week I discussed the Bivings group report called "The Use of the Internet by America's Largest Newspapers." This graph summarizes what Bivings found about the use of social media by America's top 100 newspapers:

(Click graph for expanded view.)

Looks good, doesn't it? The trends are heading for 100 percent adoption of RSS, video, blogs, commenting and bookmarking. Terrific.

But the big problem, noted by Bivings themselves in their final conclusions, is that "the sites are being improved incrementally on the margins. Newspapers are focused on improving what they already have, when reinvention may be what is necessary in order for the industry to come out of the current crisis on the other side."

I agree. These various social media techniques are being applied experimentally and randomly. With a few possible exceptions, they are not applied as part of a unified concept that's clear to the site visitor. Installing a collection of social media tools on a site does not create a community. It does not leverage the power of a social network. It does not encourage or enable readers to "collaborate, create and curate." Some of the obvious ways newspapers could enables readers to do that, such as local news wikis, are non-existent. And tools like tags, RSS and bookmarking are not very useful in the absence of a community sharing content.

Why is it important for newspapers to get into social networking? Basically, because of Metcalfe's Law, which says that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes, or users, on it. (See also.) A news site that just delivers news to readers, uni-directionally, is not a network. Once you do build a network with good interactivity, the amount of traffic on it grows exponentially, much faster than the number of users does. To readers, the value of this lies in the connections made, the content shared, the community created. To the owner of the network, in turn, it will leverage much greater revenue potential.

Newspapers have always had a social product—they rely on readers and retailers to participate and interact via press releases, letters, display and classified ads, pass-alongs of the physical paper, crosswords, generation of buzz and gossip, purchases made, you name it. This interactivity historically has made newspapers builders of actual communities (and a lot of fun to work for until not long ago)—but newspapers have been very slow, and well behind other industries, in building online communities through social networking, as distinct from simply employing various individual social media. This failure also threatens to leave newspapers truly left behind when the web progresses from to social-networking "Web 2.0" stage into the "Semantic Web" or "Web 3.0," which will add a further dimension of networks among facts, ideas and concepts.

So, what should a truly socially-networked news site look like? Let's look at a few sites to collect the ingredients:

Here's a New York Times movie review. On or via this single page, I can: (a) read the review, within which I can (b) follow a slew of hyperlinks to related other pages. I can participate myself by (c) rating the movie, and (d) writing a review (or reading reviews by other readers). I can also (e) watch a clip, (f) find a full listing of credits, (g) find theatre and showtime listings, and in some cases (h) buy tickets via So far, so good—lots of interactivity, including at least some with other readers.

Moreover, in a 5-month old Times project still in beta, I can register to become a "TimesPerson" on the "TimesPeople" social network, through which I can share and recommend Times content, RSS feeds and the like with "followers," and I can "follow" the recommendations of others. It sounds like a social network, but it's really just social bookmarking. Meanwhile, the Times has run a brief campaign on Facebook that has resulted in nearly 200,000 "fans" signing on to its Facebook presence—but on its Facebook page, the Times so far doesn't offer TimesPeople functionality, or much of anything else to draw its fans deeper into its content, or into a real network. All in all, despite the enormous depth and scope of its content, despite almost weekly announcements of site enhancements, the Times seems to be, in Bivings' words, timidly experimenting "incrementally on the edges," not jumping into the deep end of social networking, not fully embracing Web 2.0.

Another approach, in a much smaller market: the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette, which flew below Bivings' radar with print circulation of 61,000 weekdays, 75,000 Sundays (ABC audit), logging 3.48 million pageviews from about 132,000 unique visitors monthly (via

The Gazette has plenty of social media features, plus a semi-wiki in its Data Central section, interactive maps, and about three dozen staff blogs, on some of which you can follow the Gazette's evolving philosophy on web publishing and networking. One of those is the blog of CEO Chuck Peters: C3: Complete Community Connection, in which he publicly talks to his staff and the community about his vision for a community networked by the Gazette's news enterprises:

We have acknowledged that we need a new model, mindset, tasks and organization to move from the franchise megaphones of newspaper and television to an interconnected ecosystem of local information, available on all platforms, created “with and by” the communities we serve. We know that we have to separate content creation from product creation. We know that we need to develop a network of people creating blogs and wikis on key topics and communities. We know that we need to develop a common technical framework for that creation of content. Commercial content likewise must created in a more atomized and fluid way.

Entrepreneurial journalists will lead the way. Without them, we have nothing to offer. We need to create the systems to support them. In order to do so, we need to focus not only on the tasks at hand, but why we do them, in order to have the energy and patience to persevere through this great change.

Now, let's jump to Bakersfield, California, home of the independently-owned Bakersfield Californian, circulation 132,000 weekdays and 156,000 Sundays, and logging 2.05 million page views from 158,000 unique visitors monthly ( only, via

Note that relative to its print circulation level, the Californian lags the Cedar Rapids Gazette, perhaps an indication of the value of the Gazette's slicker, more up-to-date site design. Indeed, won't win design prizes. But it has a real social network. Its members aren't "CalifornianPeople," they're just people.

Simply by registering on the Californian's site, here's what the paper's 20,000-odd actively registered "people" can do:

  • Post a detailed profile with photos, interests, links, friend thumbnails, a guestbook, and their choice of various apps
  • Start a blog—the site boasts an astounding 2,000 active bloggers
  • Comment on stories and blogs
  • Post reviews of restaurants
  • Report by posting stories, listing events, posting photos and video.
  • Participate in forums
  • Share social milestones
  • Find and connect with "friends", including via a cloud of interest tags
  • Post comments on guestbooks of friends
Jeepers. Looks like a real social network. Not only that, but various components including blog updates, reader-submitted photos and videos, and reader reports are posted on the site's home page, while "today's paper" is an inside page. And check out the company's youth-oriented network site—it's called Bakotopia, which functions also as a classified platform to stave off Craigslist—and its suburban citizen-journalism platform called Northwest Voice. The company has nine sites in all. And it looks like it's "monetizing" nicely, with both local display and contextual advertising all over the place.* It's not even terribly new—most of this has been in place since 2006.

Wanna just duplicate what they're doing in Bakersfield? You can—they're offering the whole platform as "reskinnable and redeployable"at Bakomatic. So far as I can tell, though, only the Arizona Republic and the Idaho State Journal have done so.

As I said, what the Californian's doing is not pretty (which may be why their approach has not been influential), but it's real social networking. It's gutsy, and it's working. (Although it may be somewhat frozen in time. Oddly, for example, the Californian's presence on Facebook is minimal.)
But now imagine what would happen if the Times expanded TimesPeople into a real social network: register once and you can blog, comment, bookmark, connect, post reports, events, pictures and video, and all the rest. Imagine, further, if newspapers decided to abandon their walled-garden approaches, and started connecting their individual networks, allowing TimesPeople to befriend CalifornianPeople and WaPoPeople. And FacebookPeople. Imagine expanding this concept to include a rewards system for users based on Charlene Li's "personal CPM" concept. Imagine if newspapers did all this transparently, operating in a public fishbowl like Chuck Peters and his staff, letting the public talk back to them about what they like and don't like.

Unfortunately, there's not much momentum in this direction. And at most of the "other 1300" newspapers, with circulations under 95,000, not examined by Bivings, social networking is as distant as a manned Mars mission. I promised a few posts ago to explore that territory, but my initial forays have been discouraging. For example, I visited the site of the nearby (to me) Northampton, (Mass.) Gazette, which I've always regarded as a fine newspaper, only to discover that (a) to comment on a story, I need to register (fair enough, I thought), but, to register, I need to be a print subscriber. Not only that, some of the news content is totally off limits except to registered subscribers. Newsstand buyers and casual site visitors: chopped liver—you can't read the good stuff on the site, and you can't comment, except with a special online-only subscription. So, I was off to a discouraging start on that quest, but I'll keep looking.
*It should be noted, however, that the Californian has not been immune to the recession, having announced 25 layoffs this month. There have been none at Cedar Rapids, as far as I can tell. The Times has made cuts in its newsroom and other departments.

Tipping point: Online news overtakes print

Gallup and Pew polls, both published this month, agree that fewer and fewer people are getting their news from newspapers, more and more get their news from the internet, and that "internet" is about to overtake printed "newspapers" as the preferred news source, if it hasn't already. I've seen each of these polls discussed in the journoblogs, but not compared.

In case you missed either of them, here's Pew's key question and graph (sources add to more than 100 percent because multiple answers were accepted):

Here's Gallup's newspaper question and graph:

And here's Gallup's internet question and graph:

These polls show that we're at a tipping point in favor of internet sourcing of news. The decline of the print numbers doesn't look as precipitous as we pundits tend to perceive it, but that's because it's hiding a huge demographic skew: print readership is still pretty stable among older age groups, but tapers off to just about zero in the youngest cohorts. Pew found that among 18-29 year-olds, online news led printed newspapers 59 percent to 28 percent (and tied television, which was also at 59 percent).

Now, the point has been made, by Jeff Jarvis and others, that "internet" in these polls includes the sites of daily newspapers, and besides, that there's a sort of apples-and-oranges problem, in that television, newspapers and the internet are not three separate "media" in the delivery systems sense. In Jeff's words: "[T]he internet is not just a means of delivery for one-way distribution of media as a product; the internet is a means of collaboration, creation, and curation (alliteration unintentional). Paper is a medium; the internet is not." But, whatever the internet is, that's where the news audience is heading, in droves.

So, to me, this raises a key question: if newspapers want to continue to follow the audience to the internet, where more and more of them want to find their news (or the news finds them, in the often-quoted words of a focus group participant), how can they raise the level of their online presence from a simple delivery medium to a full-fledged "means of collaboration, creation and curation"? In other words, how do newspapers leverage the social networking power of the internet?

I'll address that in the next post: Nuts and Bolts: How newspapers can optimize use of social media.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Basic Premises, Core Preachings

In lieu of a real post, today NaN's Departments of Recycling and Shameless Self-Promotion have teamed up to offer a list of the posts on this blog that summarize its basic premises and central ideas. (The rest is hopefully not idle chatter, but it's more random and topical than what's on this list.)

For your convenience, these are now also listed in the left navigation bar, right under my profile.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

All best wishes for the holidays to readers of News after Newspapers.

I'll be back in action by Sunday, or so.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Social media on newspaper sites: what the Bivings report tells (and doesn't tell)

Mentions of the new 2008 edition of "The Use of the Internet by America's Largest Newspapers," published by the Bivings Group, keep popping up in my feed reader, usually with gushing headlines like that of David Kaplan at PaidContent: "Newspapers Suddenly Adapt to Socal [sic] Media: Nearly 60 Percent Offer User-Gen Content."

The trouble is, Kaplan and other journobloggers (including Common Sense Journalism, Editors Weblog, and even Romenesko) ignore the word "largest" in there, and talk about the report's findings as if they apply to all newspapers.

Actually, Bivings studied only the websites of the top 100 newspapers, ranked by ABC-reported circulation. So the finding cited by Kaplan applies actually only to "nearly 60 percent" (58, to be precise) of the top 100. In other words, 42 of America's 100 largest newspaper sites still don't have user-generated content (defined as photos, video and articles--commenting is a separate category), and lord knows how many of the 1,300-odd smaller dailies don't.

Bivings could get a handle on the rest of the industry pretty easily by doing a random sampling of 100 of those smaller newspaper sites, but alas, they didn't.

In any case, what's the significance of the Bivings findings? In my mind, this chart, which summarizes the changes from 2007 to 2008, pretty much tells the story by illustrating what's changed and what hasn't:
  • Most of the top 100 already offered RSS, section RSS, reporter blogs, comments on reporter blogs, and video.
  • The big swings were in comments on stories (75 percent in 2008, up from 33 percent a year earlier); user-generated video, photos and text (58 percent, up from 24); and social bookmarking (92 percent, up from 44). Clearly this shows major moves into social media thinking in newsrooms.
  • Required registration dropped from 29 percent to 11 percent, indicating abandonment of that barrier, and pretty much sinking any prospects for a payment-based content delivery structure.
  • Bivings also found growth in mobile content from 53 percent to 64 percent, and shrinkage in podcasts from 49 percent to 40 percent. Neither of these may be terribly significant at this point
(See also this 3-year comparison chart for a bit more perspective.)

Some bits from elsewhere in the study: only 9 percent of the sites (meaning 9 of the top 100) use tags, and only 10 percent have an actual social network (with user profiles and interactivity) in place. These are new metrics for 2008, so there are no comparatives with prior years, but they may be a better indicator of how well (or poorly) newspaper sites are incorporating social media than long-established standards like RSS, blogs and commenting.

Bivings' final conclusion, which few of the bloggers seem to have read through to (it's on page 24 of the study) is worth reflecting upon (emphasis added): "Lastly, our study shows that newspapers are trying to improve their web programs and experimenting with a variety of new features. However, having actually reviewed all these newspaper websites it is hard not to be left with the impression that the sites are being improved incrementally on the margins. Newspapers are focused on improving what they already have, when reinvention may be what is necessary in order for the industry to come out of the current crisis on the other side. " I've been saying that, too.

But it's important to note, also, where Bivings did not go. Beyond the top 100 markets, in the nether regions of newspaper circulation (the cutoff was about 95,000), out there in East Outer Cupcake, social media adoption by newspapers is nowhere near what it is among the big boys. It's not hard to find papers that put up only a few stories a day, and there are plenty of newspaper sites without RSS, commenting or blogs, let alone video, bookmarking and the rest.

Does this matter? Yes. The top 100 have about 74 percent of total circulation, which leaves a significant 26 percent unrepresented. That 26 percent is demographically very different from the top 74 percent, and those 1,300 newspapers are quite different from the top 100 in terms of technology adoption rates. And, by all accounts it's the top 100 "metro" papers that are in the most financial trouble, while everything from "community" newspapers to small city dailies are the healthiest segment of the industry.

Is that because of, or despite their relatively unsocial attitudes toward social media? One prognosticator I mentioned in my previous post, Windchimes--an agency in India, apparently-- might argue it's the former. They suggest, in essence, that news media should focus on what they do best, and leave social networking to the social networks. They have a point, but the bottom line is that we've moved into Web 2.0 for good, and any site that doesn't offer the right social connection points soon will be left behind, because social connectivity will be increasingly important in delivering a major share of site traffic.

So, enough for today. But I'm planning to go explore the territory Bivings left uncharted, not with a formal study but with an exploration of how newspapers in smaller markets are (and are not) using social media, and what elements should form part of their social media strategy. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a few suggestions for Bivings for next year, in case they're listening:
  • Metrics for the markets beyond the top 100 are needed--just a sampling will tell the tale.
  • Twitter has been invented--how many newsrooms use it?
  • How many papers embed a significant number of outbound hyperlinks to content sources and related news in their stories?
  • And, perhaps, how many have started a news topic wiki?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More media blogger predictions for 2009

Since I came out with my own predictions for 2009, a number of other media blogs have posted lists of media-related prognostications. Here's a roundup:

Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb offers a set of social media predictions that focus on tools "to help us better organize, if not filter, the information we deal with every day."

Dylan Stableford at Folio has no fewer than 117 predictions, rounded up from a slew of experts, mainly about the magazine racket. Some suggest 2009 will see a major contraction in the number of magazine titles published, but there's also Dylan Tweney of Wired, who notes that 335 magazines were launched during 2008, and he expects laid-off journalists and entrepreneurs to start even more of them in 2009, with this proviso: "Most of these magazines will never see print. They'll be online-only publications, aggregators of interesting stories, pictures and miscellany—the original definition of 'magazine'—along the lines of Harper's or its more modern analogue, The Huffington Post."

Diane Mermigas of the Benton Foundation
: "Major advertisers such as automotives, financial services, retail and real estate will be diminished and different when they rebound a year from now. Local media could see half of their ad revenue base wiped out in 2009."

Shawn Farner's ("ballsy")social media predictions: "Twitter will be bought. By who? If I had to guess, I’d say Google."

Several commentators at eMarketer weigh in on online ad spending and e-commerce trends.

MarketEvolution has some predictions for the UK newspaper market.

Windchimes has an interesting one worth quoting in its entirety:
Traditional media will rediscover itself: There is a lot of talk on how traditional media will lose its sheen in the coming years. I believe it will continue to do so if it keeps following social media principles without reinventing itself. Take the case of citizen journalism. A couple of TV channels have started running segments where the citizens report in news to the people at large. As a subscriber I am not paying TV channels money to hear news from the common man. I am expecting a thorough analysis done by the reporters and journalists on the events before it being presented to me. I want an unbiased, complete perspective which an untrained citizen cannot provide. For citizen based reports, I always have social media platforms to go to.I predict that in 2009 channels adopting practices like these will die. Traditional media is still very important in our lives and it has to discover and operate from its own strengths rather than borrow principles of social media.
Carnival of Journalism members, hosted this month by DigiDave (that David Cohn of, were invited to counteract the general gloom with positive predictions. The rest of these are from that group:

Charlie Becket's list at Polis, includes "a consolidation in people’s habits, a gathering around iPhone, Facebook and Google rather than new adventures into virgin territory of the new media jungle."

Jack Lail at Random Mumblings appears to agree, writing that "[e]xcess will get wrung out. Media businesses based on bad ideas and media enterprises that have little viability of profits going forward will morph or fold, or both. Those could include everything from startups to the oldest business in Colorado in the Rocky Mountain News. Yes, some good technologies, good ideas and good news organizations will go down, too. Some good people will lose their jobs. But a business is more than a good idea or good product. That's a positive prediction? For those that remain, yes."

Doug Fisher at Common Sense Journalism looks on the bright side with predictions that include: "Out of all that laid-off brainpower will come some really smart sites/products/stories/multimedia, etc. A lot of smart people have been shown the exit door from newsrooms and media operations. And despite how it sometimes can come across when listening to the echo chamber of the digiterati, not all are luddites or curmudgeons or whiners and piners."

Andy Dickinson expands on two basic predictions: "This will be the year of the journalist" (in the sense that individuals can build their own personal brands, and "Europe will step on Google."

Paul Bradshaw at OJB tells us what 2009 won't be: not the year of the mobile web, not the year of the semantic web. And he agrees with Andy that Google is vulnerable.

Brian Murley at Innovation in College Media is philosophical: "We will be okay. Democracy will survive. Journalism will survive. The news industry will slowly figure out its future - 2009 will be a turning point. I think the next generation of journalists will be among those figuring out the economics of publishing in an era of 'free' on the Internet."

Adrian Monck offers a call to action, rather than conversation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nuts and Bolts: What an "online first newsroom" means

Chris O'Brien of the Next Newsroom Project has a good post at the Knight Digital Media Center entitled "What does 'online-first' mean in your newsroom?". His suggestions revolve around planning and workflow, deadlines, jobs and linking. Instead of starting the cycle by critiquing today's front page and planning the featured content of tomorrow's section fronts, he says, "the discussions about content creation should start with the subject and then explore whether to tell that with text, audio, video, or some data product. The critiques should be a continual process throughout the day of evaluating traffic, comments, and updates. There should be a team dedicated to taking all this content and turning it into a print version, but they shouldn’t be driving the process."

Further, Chris writes that deadlines should be tailored to the 9 a.m. daily web traffic peak (I'm guessing that's Pacific Time—on the East Coast I think it's closer to noon); job descriptions should change and include things like a "community manager" to moderate comments and blogs; and reporters should embed outbound links in stories.

Chris also asks for further suggestions. As it happens, I posted yesterday (as part of a new rubric here at News After Newspapers called "Nuts and Bolts") on what newspapers should do to maximize online ad sales. There are clear parallels between what newsrooms should be doing and what sales departments should be doing. So here are my thoughts for online-first newsrooms. (As it turns out, the first six of these are identical, or parallel, to my seven mandates for the sales department.)

1. Lead with the DotCom brand. If the ad department puts the DotCom name on their business cards, so should the newsroom. Moreover, both departments should answer the phone with the DotCom brand. At Chris's paper, the Mercury News, that's easy, since the URL is; they can just keep saying "MercuryNews." But at the Boston Globe, they should be saying "Boston dot com." (They don't, by the way.) Be sure also that the URL is in the folio on every page, on the masthead, on every special section, on every piece of internal and external communication. Everywhere: the front of the building. And if newsrooms don't like the idea of "branding" ("It's a newspaper, not a product."), get over it.

2. Don't separate online and print editorial staffs. Same as in advertising, with the exception of a few specialists, everybody should be a universal content producer. Tear down any remaining walls. As Chris wrote: "We all should be thinking about moving toward multiplatform newsrooms: print, radio, online, mobile."

3. Do web research for every story. On the ad side, the equivalent is: figure out what your advertising customer's web strategy is—chances are it's more sophisticated than you think. In the newsroom, always dig deeper online; it will usually open up new information or avenues of inquiry. I've been amazed at what newsrooms large and small miss by failing to do this. (By the same token, and proving the point, clearly some fantastic stories have been done by reporters who know how to mine online information.) Editors should get in the habit of demanding to know what the reporter did in the way of online research.

4. Train reporters, editors, designers and customers alike. New tools are coming along all the time; whatever they learned in J-school is obsolete. Use an internal blog to share new tools, new techniques, new features of your site, and hold training workshops often. "Train customers?" Sure—if you're doing what you should be doing, constantly tweaking and improving your site with new features, you need to keep telling customers (that's "readers" for newsroom diehards) about it, in print and online.

5. Invest in the technology. Chris alluded to content management systems that may not even allow reporters to embed hyperlinks. (I've been there, done that.) Publishers: it's almost 2009; get with the program. Editors: a story without hyperlinks is not a story. Elsewhere on the tech front, there are still plenty of good reasons to use notepads and pencils, but if the budget will stretch, equip reporters with laptops, iPhones, voice recorders, video cameras and other goodies. The cost will come back to you in productivity and great content.

Make it easy for news sources and readers to reach you, online or otherwise. Why is "Contact Us" so often a miniscule link way down in the footer of the web site, and why do I need to click through about seven layers to find out where to send a press release? Why, sometimes, is every reporter and editor's phone and e-mail address listed, but there's no general phone number for the newsroom? Why not add everybody's Twitter handle?

7. Think social media in everything you do. I'm still finding major newspaper web sites without blogs, without commenting, without social bookmarking links. Many are not experimenting with Twitter and don't have a Facebook page. And virtually none have anybody specifically in charge of social media maximization. Again, 2009 is nearly here. What social media should mean for newspapers, and where it may be heading, is an entire topic in itself, one I'm planning to tackle with another "Nuts and Bolts." Pretty soon.

Related post: Nuts and bolts: maximizing online ad sales on newspaper sites

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nuts and bolts: maximizing online ad sales on newspaper sites

There being no newspaper bankruptcy, fire sale, layoff, frequency reduction or shutdown news (yet) today, I've been pondering what newspapers should do in the coming year to maximize their sales of online advertising. Anything they accomplish in that direction will help position them better for the day they follow the Detroit papers and begin, one way or another, to curtail print delivery. Or when print readership just melts away of its own accord. So here goes:

1. Lead with the DotCom brand. Publishers: take out your wallet and check your business card. And have a look at the cards your salespeople hand out. What's more prominent: the name of your newspaper, or the name of your web site (if it's even listed on there)? If the biggest element on the card is not your online brand, confiscate all the cards and replace them. Do the same thing with all other printed or online sales materials, rate cards, media kits, whatever. In other words, make sure your graphic message is: we are first and foremost an online news and marketing organization.

2. Don't separate online and print sales staffs. Many papers have flip-flopped on this question for years, but a staff with expertise in both areas will be most successful in maximizing revenue. Sure, in a larger paper or group you need some online specialists. But don't test clients' limited time by sending in two separate reps—teach reps to craft and sell the appropriate mix of print and online for each client.

3. Research how your customers use the Web. You expect them to use your site. When's the last time you looked at theirs? What's their web marketing strategy? How can you plug into it and enhance it? Look at big advertisers, look at small advertisers, and look at non-advertisers in the "Long Tail." You'd be surprised how many businesses, even the smallest, have invested in sophisticated web sites. But how's their traffic, compared to competitors? Research them by investing in a premium version of a traffic comparison service like Alexa or Compete. Do they show up in appropriate searches? Do they have plenty of inbound links? (Find out with a simple "link:[URL]" Google search.) Chances are that a retailer's site is like a billboard in the jungle: nobody can find it, nobody sees it, and nobody can point to it (and nobody hears it when it falls down). There's opportunity in pointing this problem out and showing what you can do to fix it.

4. Train salespeople, designers and customers alike. Training print reps (if it happened at all) used to be a piece of cake compared with what it takes to trainweb salesmanship. Your all-media reps need to be expertly conversant in web terminology, technology, traffic statistics, ad formats, clickthrough rates, pricing structures and more. Train and retrain, since the picture shifts just about daily. Remember that some of the old imperatives like the value of multiple brand exposures are still key in the online ad game. Consider bringing in a speaker like Mel Taylor to talk to a gathering of advertisers, as well as to energize your reps about online sales. Include your designers in as much of the training as you can, so they understand both the marketing and the design sides of the equation. Communicate frequently with customers via an e-newsletter.

5. Invest in the technology. It can be tough to pry loose a few bucks for capital expenditures these days, but you need to keep up with the latest tools for designing and publishing web ads of all kinds. If your sales reps aren't taking a laptop along on every sales call, buy them one for Christmas. Make sure it's equipped with both WiFi and a way to demonstrate options where they can't go online. In most cases, this won't cost more than a week's worth of ad commissions. (Capability to do order entry from the field would be nice, too.)

6. Make sure your sales incentive plan rewards online selling first. I probably hold a record for the number of newspaper sales commission plans I've assembled over 30 years, because I constantly tweaked plans to adjust for changing conditions. If your plan is older than the calendar on your wall, this would be a good time to throw it out and start over as of January 1, 2009. Your reps have a bucket full of things they can sell, and without the right incentive structure they will earn as much money as they want by selling everything but online, if they're so inclined. Be sure that the only way they can make some real money is by hitting targets in multiple categories—for example online, daily print, and niche products. Miss your goal in any category, and you won't earn the higher commission rates on over-goal sales. And be sure goal setting is a rigorous, monthly process the reps participate in.

7. Make it easy for advertisers to do business with you online. A longstanding web mantra, not well observed by newspapers, is that virtually anything customers can do with you in person or by phone should be possible, and easy, online. Think about how you make airline reservations, for example, or explore the Google AdWords site for inspiration—it gets Google billions in revenue with very little human interaction on their part. Or consider your own frustration when you're researching a purchase online and can't find the information you want, or complete a transaction. Remember that there are 168 hours in a week, and your reps are selling for 40, if you're lucky. At any time, day or night, your advertisers should be able to find your marketing materials (not PDFs of rate cards, please—take some time to transform that printed stuff into an effective web format), find answers to questions, place advertising, see and approve proofs, get digital tearsheets, access accounts, and pay bills. (This includes classified advertisers—they're flocking to Craigslist not only because it's free, but because it's easy, compared with the cumbersome classified placement process at many papers.) Be sure also that advertisers can easily find all the contact info they need to communicate with your sales, production and accounting personnel directly. And of course, all of this applies also to customers looking to do business with your circulation and news departments.

Related post: Nuts and bolts: What an "online-first newsroom" means

(Shameless disclosure/commercial message: I'm available to newspaper publishers for consulting on any of the above. )

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An imperfect solution in Detroit

The announcements now being made in Detroit appear to confirm the earlier rumors:

Changes due to occur in first quarter 2009 include:
  • Expanding digital information channels that provide news and information to a variety of audiences when, where and how they want it.

  • Limiting newspaper home delivery to Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays while selling printed copies at newsstand seven days a week.

  • Providing subscribers daily access to electronic editions, exact copies of each day's printed newspapers.

It's not the best solution, I think. While managers told an employee meeting there would be tens of millions of dollars in savings (stemming from about 200 job cuts, newsprint savings and distribution savings), it keeps in place two separate press runs on most days while failing to differentiate the two papers more clearly. And implementation will be a nightmare, I'm afraid.

The plan looks like a compromise between the status quo and a real rationalization of the market, which had been my suggestion last week. I put forward a Thursday-Friday-Sunday Free Press coupled with a Monday-Friday News distributed free. Advantages: fewer press runs, two distinct missions and markets, greater circulation during the week, and easier to implement.

Either scenario would, by design, push more readers to electronic editions. Given the findings of a just-released Gannett poll tracking consumer news preferences, that's a good strategy, although it will get fierce resistance from many, particularly older readers. The graph posted by Paul Gillin from this poll shows that a year from now, the Internet will surpass local newspapers as a daily news source. (And local newspapers have been behind local TV news for a long time.) Better for newspapers to go with that trend, by adopting online-first strategies, than to continue trying to fight it. That seems to be the plan in Detroit, whatever the imperfections of the print distribution scheme.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Out on my limb: Predictions for 2009

Update, December 2009: I've posted my scorecard on these predictions.

While we're waiting for the shoes to drop in Detroit, and before everybody drops out of circulation for the holidays, here are my predictions for the U. S. newspaper industry for 2009, listed in no particular order of likelihood:

No other newspaper companies will file for bankruptcy.

Several cities, besides Denver, that today still have multiple daily newspapers will become single-newspaper towns.

Whatever gets announced this week by the Detroit Newspaper Partnership in terms of frequency reduction will be emulated in several more cities (including both single and multiple newspaper markets) within the first half of the year.

Even if both papers in Detroit somehow maintain a seven-day schedule, we'll see several other major cities and a dozen or more smaller markets cut back from six or seven days to one to four days per week.

As part of that shift, some major dailies will switch their Sunday package fully to Saturday and drop Sunday publication entirely. They will see this step as saving production cost, increasing sales via longer shelf life in stores, improving results for advertisers, and driving more weekend website traffic. The "weekend edition" will be more feature-y, less news-y.

There will be at least one, and probably several, mergers between some of the top newspaper chains in the country. Top candidate: Media News merges with Hearst. Dow Jones will finally shed Ottaway in a deal engineered by Boston Herald owner (and recently-appointed Ottaway chief), Pat Purcell.

Google will not buy the New York Times Company, or any other media property, . Google is smart enough to stick with its business, which is organizing information, not generating content. On the other hand, Amazon may decide that they are in the content business... And then there's the long shot possibility that Michael Bloomberg loses his re-election bid next fall, which might generate a 2010 prediction, if NYT is still independent at that point.

There will be a mini-dotcom bust, featuring closings or fire sales of numerous web enterprises launched on the model of "generate traffic now, monetize later."

The fifty newspaper execs who gathered at API's November Summit for an Industry in Crisis will not bother to reconvene six months later (which would be April) as they agreed to do.

Newspaper advertising revenue will decline year-over-year 10 percent in the first quarter and 5 percent in the second. It will stabilize, or nearly so, in the second half, but will have a loss for the year. For the year, newspapers will slip below 12 percent of total advertising revenue (from 15 percent in 2007 and around 13.5 percent in 2008). But online advertising at newspaper sites will resume strong upward growth.

Newspaper circulation, aggregated, will be steady (up or down no more than 1 percent) in each of the 6-month ABC reporting periods ending March 31 and September 30. Losses in print circulation will be offset by gains in ABC-countable paid digital subscriptions, including facsimile editions and e-reader editions.

At least 25 daily newspapers will close outright. This includes the Rocky Mountain Post, and it will include other papers in multi-newspaper markets. But most closings will be in smaller markets.

One hundred or more independent local startup sites focused on local news will be launched. A number of them will launch weekly newspapers, as well, repurposing the content they've already published online. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, some are non-profit. There will be some steps toward formation of a national association of local online news publishers, perhaps initiated by one of the journalism schools.

The Dow will be up 15 percent for the year. The stocks of newspaper firms will beat the market.

At least one publicly-owned newspaper chain will go private.

A survey will show that the median age of people reading a printed newspaper at least 5 days per week is is now over 60.

Reading news on a Kindle or other e-reader will grow by leaps and bounds. E-readers will be the hot gadget of the year. The New York Times, which currently has over 10,000 subscribers on Kindle, will push that number to 75,000. The Times will report that 75 percent of these subscribers were not previously readers of the print edition, and half of them are under 40. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post will not be far behind in e-reader subscriptions.

The advent of a color Kindle (or other brand color e-reader) will be rumored in November, 2009, but won't be introduced before the end of the year.

Some newspaper companies will buy or launch news aggregation sites. Others will find ways to collaborate with aggregators.

As newsrooms, with or without corporate direction, begin to truly embrace an online-first culture, outbound links embedded in news copy, blog-style, as well as standalone outbound linking, will proliferate on newspaper sites. A reporter without an active blog will start to be seen as a dinosaur.

The Reuters-Politico deal will inspire other networking arrangements whereby one content generator shares content with others, in return for right to place ads on the participating web sites on a revenue-sharing basis.

The Obama administration will launch a White House Wiki to help citizens follow the Changes, and in time will add staff blogs, public commenting, and other public interaction.

The Washington Post will launch a news wiki with pages on current news topics that will be updated with new developments.

The New York Times will launch a sophisticated new Facebook application built around news content. The basic idea will be that the content of the news (and advertising) package you get by being a Times fan on Facebook will be influenced by the interests and social connections you have established on Facebook. There will be discussion of, if not experimentation with, applying a personal CPM based on social connections, which could result in a rewards system for participating individuals.

Craigslist will partner with a newspaper consortium in a project to generate and deliver classified advertising. There will be no new revenue in the model, but the goal will be to get more people to go to newspaper web sites to find classified ads. There will be talk of expanding this collaboration to include Ebay.

Look for some big deals among the social networks. In particular, Twitter will begin to falter as it proves to be unable to identify a clearly attainable revenue stream. By year-end, it will either be acquired or will be seeking to merge or be acquired. The most likely buyer remains Facebook, but interest will come from others as well and Twitter will work hard to generate an auction that produces a high valuation for the company.

Some innovative new approaches to journalism will emanate from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A major motion picture or HBO series featuring a journalism theme (perhaps a blogger involved in saving the world from nefarious schemes) will generate renewed interest in journalism as a career.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Inside scoop on Detroit via WSJ

The Wall Street Journal has added a tidbit to what we know about looming plans for the Detroit Newspaper Partnership, via an anonymous source "familiar with the company's thinking":
The publisher hasn't made a final decision, said this person, but the leading scenario set to be unveiled Tuesday would call for the Free Press and its partner paper, the Detroit News, to end home delivery on all but the most lucrative days—Thursday, Friday and Sunday. On the other days, the publisher would sell single copies of an abbreviated print edition at newsstands and direct readers to the papers' expanded digital editions.

Detroit: Doomsday, or a new day?

Yesterday's speculations about the future of Detroit's newspapers have now yielded clear confirmation that something big is up.

If the Detroit Newspaper Partnership shakeup was to have been limited to doing its share of the current round of 10 percent workforce reductions at Gannett, those cuts would have been announced over the past week or two. Instead, the Free Press reports today (as leaked yesterday to Gannett Blog) that CEO David Hunke confirmed in an e-mailed memo that a more fundamental change is in the cards. The rumors are that it'll be drastic--Gannett Blog's description:
Under the purported plan, one or both Detroit papers would end home delivery entirely, except for perhaps two or three days a week -- the more-lucrative Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions. Other days, there would be some sort of slimmed-down single-copy-only version. And everyone would be encouraged to subscribe to already-available electronic editions of the Freep and the News.
If any of this turns out to be right, Detroit will be the first major U. S. city where the old daily newspaper model is broken and a risky new experimental strategy is implemented. Reactions are understandably mixed:

Alan Mutter, the Newsosaur calls it "Motown Madness," and seems to assume that all the potential downsides will materialize. There are no upsides in his view:
In moving to intermittent home delivery, the Motown papers run two potentially fatal risks:
  • Significantly reducing daily newspaper consumption among the most loyal print readers.
  • Triggering a further erosion of already weak print advertising revenues.
He quotes extensively a former Gannett circulation exec who believes strongly in the value of home delivery. This is not surprising; most circulation executives I've known advocated for years that newspapers should refrain from publishing all their content online in order to force readers to buy print.

The influential Madrid designer Juan Antonia Giner (who is very fond of one-sentence paragraphs) is similarly critical in Innovations in Newspapers:

You cannot survive by offering the print product only a few days a week.

Reading a print newspaper is a daily habit.

If you want to survive, you need to produce a “necessary newspaper” not an “occasional newspaper.”

U.S. newspapers are lost, confused and in the hands of publishers and managers who don’t want to invest in the future.

Don’t want to invest in journalism.

Don’t want to innovate.

Don’t want to compete.

This is lack of vision.

Lack of faith in change.

Just greed, greed, greed.

On the positive side, there's me (in yesterday's post):
But with a dismal economic scene in Detroit, with or without an auto bailout, it will be nearly impossible for the JOA to be profitable in its current configuration. No amount of cost-cutting will do the trick. The only way out is, in fact, to "blow up the organization" and launch an entirely new business model. Under the circumstances, this kind of thinking ought to help Gannett's battered stock price, which can't sink much lower, in any case. And MediaNews should be pleased to go along for the ride; since they have total downside protection, they can only win.
Look for a bold rationalization of the market that pushes the boundaries of what's permissible both under anti-trust and FCC rules. In my mind, this should include: a big shift to an online-first-and-foremost culture; a Free Press published Thursdays and Sundays; a slim, Monday-Friday Detroit News free paper; and a strong alliance between the Free Press and a leading TV broadcaster in town. Certainly this kind of scenario entails more job cuts, but it would represent a strategic restructuring that has a good chance of succeeding, not a tactical retrenchment that's just a step on the way to oblivion. We'll find out Tuesday whether David Hunke is a strategist, or a tactician.
And over at Poynter, Rick Edmonds, while not directly addressing the Detroit situation, provides insight on the digital redirection Gannett is engaged in:
[T]he thrust of the Gannett story is that the company is making itself into a digital-intensive enterprise as quickly as possible. Its most recent acquisition is a small company, Ripple 6, that provides marketing solutions for social networking media. Gannett has, at the same time, built sites focused on moms, high school sports and local entertainment. Collectively, the sites are generating traffic of between 1.2 and 2.1 million unique visitors per month each and users spend an impressive 13 minutes per visit. So the elements are coming together for building a new line of business.
Edmonds also links to Gannett CEO Craig Dubow's comments during UBS Media Week, which provide further context:
It's a tougher time for newspapers, but Craig Dubow, Gannett's chairman, president and CEO, has a basic answer for the continued existence of newspapers: consumers will always need content and advertisers will need to reach them. As for why newspapers are the best vehicles for that connection, Dubow turned, interestingly enough, not to print, but to Gannett's web properties. In particular, Dubow, speaking with two other Gannett (NYSE: GCI) execs at the UBS Global Media and Communications (PDF) conference, touted a forthcoming program called ContentOne, which he said "will completely change the way we share content across the company, especially at the local level. It will be created using the web start-up model." It should be up sometime in Q1. The idea is "local content on a national level," and will use the regionally focused sites MomsLikeMe and Metromix as the foundation.
The point here is that Gannett appears to be acting on the realization that printed newspapers are doomed because of demographics. The average daily printed newspaper reader is close to 60 years old. Before long, therefore, printed newspapers will be a niche medium targeting retired people. That is not a sustainable business model. Meanwhile, the younger the demographic, the less likely it is to read newsprint. Among 20-somethings, print readership is near zero, and nothing publishers do will induce them to pick up a printed newspaper on a regular basis.

One newspaper publisher, The Thomson Corporation, looked at these trends and made the strategic choice in the late 1990s to sell its newspaper holdings (when prices were still very good), and to refocus itself as "the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals." If Gannett has decided to similarly refocus on becoming the leading source of intelligent information for consumers, that must lead them in the direction of web first, print secondary, and will be a central element in their decisions for Detroit and other markets.

(Note: corrected spelling of 'Thomson' 12/12 10:17 pm)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Will Gannett, in Detroit, go boldly where no media company has gone before?

Jim Hopkins at Gannett Blog is speculating on speculation that there will be a radical restructuring of the Detroit Free Press/Detroit News publishing operation, with an announcement possible at a rumored employee meeting slated for next Tuesday, December 16 :
The Gannett-controlled publisher of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News is working on something super-duper-secret called "Project Griffin." [Actually, apparently it's 'Griffon.'] It would represent an enormous gamble by Gannett and its partner, MediaNews Group, to staunch multimillion-dollar losses in a city whose economy is cratering around the auto industry crisis. Hanging in the balance are the jobs of perhaps 2,000 employees.

Yet with nothing to lose but, well, more losses, the idea is to blow up the traditional newspaper business model in an especially dramatic way. A formal announcement could come as soon as Tuesday -- if you believe the speculation.

Under the purported plan, one or both Detroit papers would end home delivery entirely, except for perhaps two or three days a week -- the more-lucrative Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions. Other days, there would be some sort of slimmed-down single-copy-only version. And everyone would be encouraged to subscribe to already-available electronic editions of the Freep and the News.
This plan is also reported at Blogging for Michigan. The Tuesday meeting is apparently confirmed in an email this morning from CEO David Hunke.

This concept resembles the frequency-reduction scenario I've explored previously, and that has also been mentioned by Alan Mutter, Tim Windsor and Steve Outing. As I commented on Gannett Blog:
Certainly a money-losing metro should be considering a conversion to digital-first publication combined with printing just 1-3 days per week (plus a commuter freebie where appropriate). This [kind of restructuring] cuts a ton of expense while potentially retaining most of the ad revenue; and more importantly, it takes the right step into the future, while continued cost-cutting within the old model is a guaranteed dead end. The Tribune bankruptcy and Rocky Mountain News closing are going to stimulate a lot more of this kind of thinking.
Moreover, publishing less than 4 days a week would free publishers from that pesky FCC cross-ownership rule.

Is the rumored plan plausible? Let's look at the situation on the ground. The Gannett Company owns the Free Press; MediaNews Group owns the Detroit News; they jointly own The Detroit News Inc. (aka Detroit Media Partnership), which is the agency that operates both papers under a Joint Operating Agreement—but Gannett owns 95 percent of the operating partnership; MediaNews has only 5 percent. So Gannett is in charge of everything except the News newsroom. (See SEC filings for the exact structure.)

MediaNews is savvy about JOAs; they've been involved in more of them than any other chain. In Denver, they ended a long-running war with E. W. Scripps by means of a JOA combining the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. But that combo loses money, and Scripps has put the Rocky up for sale; the virtually certain outcome will be that the Rocky closes and MediaNews at last has uncontested dominance in the Denver newspaper market.

Gannett might wish that MediaNews would similarly fold their tent and leave Detroit, but that won't happen, because under the terms of the Detroit JOA, MediaNews is "reimbursed for its news and editorial costs associated with publishing The Detroit News," and if the JOA is profitable, it also receives a "fixed preferred distribution" set at $4 million for 2008 and 2009, and declining in later years. In other words, MediaNews is guaranteed not to lose money in Detroit. Assuming the JOA is currently in the red, they're forgoing the fixed preferred distribution, but their newsroom expenses are fully covered. (By contrast, in Denver Scripps had to fund news operations out of the meager JOA proceeds, so it was operating at a loss.)

In this situation, MediaNews has no incentive to pull out, and Gannett can not force the issue by offering a buyout without running into potential anti-trust issues. They need to maintain a two-newspaper market to avoid the regulators. But with a dismal economic scene in Detroit, with or without an auto bailout, it will be nearly impossible for the JOA to be profitable in its current configuration. No amount of cost-cutting will do the trick. The only way out is, in fact, to "blow up the organization" and launch an entirely new business model. Under the circumstances, this kind of thinking ought to help Gannett's battered stock price, which can't sink much lower, in any case. And MediaNews should be pleased to go along for the ride; since they have total downside protection, they can only win.

Look for a bold rationalization of the market that pushes the boundaries of what's permissible both under anti-trust and FCC rules. In my mind, this should include: a big shift to an online-first-and-foremost culture; a Free Press published Thursdays and Sundays; a slim, Monday-Friday Detroit News free paper; and a strong alliance between the Free Press and a leading TV broadcaster in town. Certainly this kind of scenario entails more job cuts, but it would represent a strategic restructuring that has a good chance of succeeding, not a tactical retrenchment that's just a step on the way to oblivion. We'll find out Tuesday whether David Hunke is a strategist, or a tactician.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A tale of two publishers

I have a Google News alert set up for "newspaper revenue," which seems to get me all the big news these days as well as interesting odds and ends. The latter included, the other day, a column entitled "World-Herald moves to embrace strong future" by Terry Kroeger, president and publisher of the Omaha, Nebraska World-Herald.

I bookmarked it, intending to comment. Then Jim Romenesko linked to it, pointing out that several passages in it are virtually identical to a previous column, "A word from the publisher: Your Star still shines, even in changing times," by Mark Zieman, president and publisher of the Kansas City Star. In fact, if you look at them side by side, there are many more identical passages than the two cited by Romenesko. In an update yesterday, Romenesko published an email from Kroeger indicating that he had read Zieman's column and obtained his permission to "use some of his ideas."

Let's leave aside the propriety of so much verbatim copying after getting permission to simply borrow some ideas, as well as the question of why the publisher of a major newspaper can't just express his thinking in his own words. Here's the core problem embodied in these columns, particularly in Kroeger's version: Neither of these publishers fully recognize the direction their businesses should be taking, but aren't.

Both talk consistently about "newspapers," not news enterprises. They talk about the market penetrations of their print editions, which are certainly very good. They both claim to be "solidly profitable," which unfortunately may be blinding them to the strategic imperatives they should be pursuing.

Zieman takes a swipe at his TV competitors by pointing out that the Star has "twice the audience of any local network television station," and that "network TV audience continues to dwindle, attracted by hundreds of additional cable channels." He adds, "'I love Lucy' was watched in 74 percent of American households in 1954; last year's top-rated show, 'American Idol,' was watched by only 15 percent."

True enough, Mr. Zieman, but how do you explain this: in 1954, U. S. newspapers garnered 32.94 percent of all advertising revenue, while broadcast television got 9.93 percent. Total advertising that year was 2.14 percent of GDP. By 2007, newspapers' share had "dwindled" to 15.07 percent of alll ad revenue, while broadcast and cable TV got a combined 25.34 percent. Total advertising in 2007 was 2.03% of GDP—in other words, the size of the pie stayed about the same, but TV gained most of what newspapers lost. And then there's this thing called the internet which has grown from nothing in 1996 to 3.77 percent in 2007. (Sources and graphs at my prior post on these trends.) The reason for this is simple: Broadcast TV, cable and internet today command a far greater share of consumers' time than newspapers do.

Both publishers go on to write (well, actually Zieman wrote, and Kroeger copied) :
Bloggers, talk-radio hosts and TV pundits all can entertain and inform. But only the local newspaper has the staff, experience and expertise to gather facts on a wide range of topics and present them in an objective and understandable format so that citizens can tackle the problems in our communities and region.
This seems to lump together and tar with the same brush "bloggers, talk-radio hosts and TV pundits," and seems to imply that the "objective and understandable format" is the printed newspaper, not the web site.

In fact, on the World-Herald's site, there are no blogs. There is no commenting, so you can't take issue with Kroeger's column. There's video, but it's AP video, not local video. There are photo galleries, but they're AP's, also. It's a circa 2003 web site, basically.

In contrast, and to their credit, the Star, a McClatchy property, has a slew of local blogs, commenting, local video, local galleries and much more of the right stuff. Perhaps Mr. Kroeger will take note, and do a little cutting and pasting of strategies in the future (that, after all, is a time-honored news business tradition). And both publishers should refocus their news enterprises more clearly to their leading edge, which is digital publishing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How to monetize "air"

So, letting others dissect the Tribune bankruptcy (foreshadowed here last week), I've been thinking about how social networks will impact the online advertising business, particularly in connection with yesterday's discussion of the Information Valet Project.

A while ago, I had this to say about marketers transitioning in their pursuit from eyeballs to friends:

Publishing stuff online in order to generate "eyeballs" and then selling ads to folks interested in reaching those eyeballs is pretty much yesterday's model. (Actually, it's a previous-centuries model that may have lost its final bit of momentum on 9/11—an event "important enough to find" just about everyone long before showing up anywhere in print, and one that created new imperatives for people to reach out and connect with each other.) A community-centered news enterprise that exploits the power of social networking will tend to generate "friends" rather than "eyeballs," and friends—customers with loyalty—are what advertisers are looking for.
And, I quoted from a Wired piece by Chris Anderson about the economics of giving things away free (content, for example, because there is plenty of it) in order to make money:
There is, presumably, a limited supply of reputation and attention in the world at any point in time. These are the new scarcities—and the world of free exists mostly to acquire these valuable assets for the sake of a business model to be identified later.
Clearly, reputation and attention will follow friend relationships in social networks, and friends will have far more value than standard display advertising in print or online. To understand why, find 45 minutes to watch this video featuring Charlene Li speaking at Google about social media. (If Google want to hear what she's got to say, so do you.)

Li reminds us that while advertisers just throw stuff at us to see what will stick, friends have conversations. She cites plenty of examples, such as Oracle's homepage campaign "Oracle Listens," and Comcast's seeking out customers mentioning problems with them on Twitter, and stepping in by asking "What can we do for you?" She notes that the value of a friend gained by a business is huge, when you consider the cost of customer acquisition and retention, the lifetime revenue during the relationship, and the referral value of a loyal customer.

"Social networks will be like air," she says, and lists four components of such networks (with quotations from this blog post by Li):
  • Universal identity — "First let’s get at the real problem—I want to be able to maintain and control my identity, and when needed, to make them connected between services. And I think that the way to do this is a federated approach..." This is a problem also being tackled by Information Valet and by Information Card. Li suggests that the universal keys can be e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers.
  • Open (and single) social graph — "In a world of a single social graph, social networks will have to compete on the basis of creating the best experience for its members—not because it controls a unique social graph."
  • Portable applications that tap into the social graph—not just the relatively trivial recreational communication that dominates Facebook, but, for heaven's sake, shopping: "The biggest hole and opportunity, IMHO, is shopping. I research and buy things online every day, and with rare exception, these activities take place outside of Facebook. Facebook Beacon brings some of the information into News Feed, while a few shopping-oriented applications like StyleFeeder have potential. But by and large, social networks don’t figure into my shopping experiences. But it could, and in a very significant [way]."
  • Personal CPM — the business model of the future for social networks, and potentially for news organizations that awaken their slumbering potential social networks. Demographics is how marketers have always targeted eyeballs. But in the future, remember, reputation and attention are scarce and have value, and those who have it will be able to monetize it. "Everyone is a marketer," Li says. "Today’s advertising models don’t work on social networking sites—that’s because simply targeting better on profile or social graph details is still the same old media model of CPM and CPC pricing. What’s missing is marketing value based on how valuable I am in the context of my influence."
To me, this line of thinking starts to fill a few of the gaps in the InfoValet model, especially (a) how users get rewarded for their participation in the system (I'm envisioning a kind of PageRank system that quantifies one's Personal CPM in a way that can't be gamed by blindly clicking on ads), and (b) how advertisers can benefit by more efficiently finding "friends" and having "conversations" rather than advertising the old-fashioned way.

A few more Li links:
Now, if Li is talking to Google, what's Google doing in this space? Via a Jeff Jarvis post last week, here's a slideshow that could take another 45 minutes out of your life. (At least, that's how long I spent studying it.) It's a fascinating look at all the ways Google makes money, or plans to make money, but the operative part for this discussion is OpenSocial, on slide 11. OpenSocial is simply a way to build program applications that will work on multiple partnering social networks. Currently participating networks have about 700 million users, but don't include Facebook, which is going its own way for now. But, the camel's nose is in the tent—expect Google and Facebook to begin developing competing ways to match marketers with "friends."

All of this leads me to wonder whether InfoValet should be thought of as a social network. It certainly envisions solutions related to—and in fact aiming well beyond the limits of—each of Li's four social network attributes. It took 2 days for a bunch of brainiacs convened at Mizzou to come up with some unwieldy definitions of InfoValet. It would be a whole lot easier to be able to say, "InfoValet is a social network consisting of trusted connections between creators, consumers and marketers in a way that allows all of them to make a little money."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Inventing the Information Valet

I spent a few days in Columbia, Missouri this past week, in the company of 50 or so people gathered by Bill Densmore at the spanking-new Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. Bill is there on a Reynolds Fellowship, with the mission of inventing something he calls the Information Valet (which I call InfoValet for short). Our collective purpose at this gathering was to help him "blueprint" InfoValet.

Bill has been chewing my ear about this and other projects for years, but I must say that before getting to Columbia, I could not have explained the InfoValet concept to anyone (despite my perhaps intelligent-sounding post about it some time ago). As it turned out, neither could most of the other attendees at the conference. We came from a variety of backgrounds. Only five conferees currently work for newspaper-publishing companies, and a few others did so in the past. The rest were drawn from technology, law, new media, consulting, academics and electronic commerce. Which is to say, it was the right mix to brainstorm solutions to the ambitious challenge Bill was posing.

InfoValet is perhaps best described and understoood by looking at it from the point of view of each of its stakeholder components. Once operational, it will be a networked set of content providers, content consumers/web users, and commercial content providers/advertisers, linked by means of tools and technology managed by the fourth component, the Information Valet system itself. Like the proverbial elephant being manually examined by a group of blind men, here's how it might variously appear, fully realized, to these stakeholders:

Content consumers/web users:
  • Would register their personal data via InfoValet and would, in a secure system, retain complete control over who could access that information.
  • By doing this, they would also gain the convenience and security of not having to enter a raft of data over and over each time they register at another site to access information or make purchases. Their personal information would reside in only one place on the web.
  • In return for allowing selective access to their personal data, they would gain two important benefits: (1) access to information more tailored to their demographics, needs and interests, and (2) a system of rewards in the form of cash or points based on their web usage and exposure to advertising content. These rewards would be greater if they are willing to share, selectively, a larger amount of personal information with advertisers for targeting purposes.
Content providers including newspaper web sites:
  • Would act as portals through which content consumers initially sign up for InfoValet. As such they could gain a share of future transactions, including ad-viewing rewards, associated with individuals they have signed up--even when those users are elsewhere on the web.
  • Would be able to sell and host advertising targeted more precisely at site visitors by means of InfoValet registrations
Commercial content providers/advertisers:
  • Would benefit from more efficient, better targeted ways of advertising to InfoValet registered consumers, published through "trusted nodes"--local brands through which consumers have signed up for infoValet
  • Could send new, more welcome forms of commercial content to InfoValet consumers
If that has you sufficiently confused, here's the conference's consensus "executive summary mission statement" description of InfoValet:
A permission-based ecosystem assuring privacy that allows you, in a trustworthy way, to share personal information so that content providers and partners can create a structure to provide you with content, applications and incentives tailored to you and your needs.
While a system like this will not necessarily save newspaper publishers (because, for one thing, it will take some time to gain traction), it has the potential to help save journalism by enabling online news publishing at a different scale. While the New York Times could be an InfoValet network member, so can a blogger or micro-local news site, and each can benefit proportionately to their traffic and content value to advertisers and consumers.

If this description makes sense and whets your appetite, here's a set of links where you can learn more:
  • Bill Densmore's Information Valet Project blog
  • The December 3-5, 2008 InfoValet conference wiki. This includes a great deal of detail on the discussion, alternatives considered, the consensus project outline, and next steps toward an actionable business plan
  • The Information Card Foundation site--this system, presented at the conference by its executive director, Charles Andres, is seen as forming the secure customer registration and data protection system for InfoValet.
  • Blog post on the conference, and further thoughts, by Chuck Peters, CEO of Gazette Communications, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Liveblog of the conference set up by Chuck.
Stay tuned, when Bill has more to talk about, I'll be talking about it.