Posts about newarchitecture

The imperatives of the link economy

At a Berkman center session last week about supporting investigative and international reporting — “difficult journalism,” in convener Ethan Zuckerman’s wording — I talked about the link economy v. content economy and at lunch, one of the participants asked what the link economy requires of us. Try this list on for size:

1. All content must be transparent: open on the web with permanent links so it can receive links. It’s not content until it’s linked.

2. The recipient of links is the party responsible for monetizing the audience they bring. In the old content-economy model of syndication, the creator sells content to another and the one who syndicates has to come up with the ad or circulation revenue sufficient to pay for it. Now in the link economy, it’s reversed: When you get traffic, you need to figure out how to benefit from it. As Doc Searls said at the event: this is a shift from “making money with” to “making money because.”

3. Links are a key to efficiency. In other words: Do what you do best and link to the rest.

4. There are opportunities to add value atop the link layer. This is where one can find business opportunities: by managing abundance rather than the old model of managing scarcity. The market needs help finding the good stuff; that curation is a business opportunity. There is also an opportunity to add context (here are lots of links about Darfur but here is a page that will explain what they mean). There is also a need to add reporting and new content and information atop a link ecology. There is a need to create infrastructure for linking (full disclosure: I am involved with two companies trying to do this — Daylife and Publish2). There is a crying need for advertising infrastructure and networks to help the recipients of links monetize them.

There is no Santa Claus, Virginia

In the fits of wishful thinking we hear about the fate of newspapers, one of the most common is that papers will go private and be taken off that mean and nasty stock market. But there are no white knights. Read this story about Avista Partners, buyer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, trying to dump the goose before it’s cooked.

But observers said the effort by lenders to sell their debt could shift the strategic landscape for the highly leveraged Star Tribune. In the first place, it could be a sign that those lenders no longer believe the Star Tribune will be profitable enough to service their debt, despite all the cuts that have taken place at the newspaper in recent months.

Investors seem to share those doubts, bidding only 53 cents on the dollar this month for shares of the senior portions of that debt.

Observers also said that despite Lazard’s attempt to find a buyer locally, the likeliest candidates to buy the debt are distressed-debt hedge funds, whose traditional focus on returns could trigger demands for even faster cost-cutting at the newspaper.

The debt taken on in going private will kill some newspapers living under it. Journalism has to survive on the marketplace from sustainable enterprises and those enterprises must reinvent themselves. Or this will happen:


: SEE ALSO: Alan Mutter on the Strib. He also reports that Journal Register it technically defaulting.

Guardian column: a new news platform

My Guardian column this week reprises the discussion from my post about Google as the new pressroom and then adds some thoughts about news organizations sharing open-source platforms. Snippet:

The Guardian is spending a few years building its own platform, but can every news organisation afford this? No. And will technology ultimately differentiate one news provider from another? I doubt it. So why not share a platform with many sites, sources and voices? In the UK, I have suggested – naively, I know – that the BBC should provide that platform for all news efforts (professional and amateur). Isn’t that a proper definition of public-service publishing?

A shared platform for news organisations wouldn’t be anticompetitive: it would be pro-efficiency. If any paper, station or site could pluck software from the cloud and freely use and adapt it to perform essential functions then it could concentrate its resources on what matters – journalism.

At the Guardian’s seminar, I asked what the paper is if not a manufacturer, distributor or technology company. “Fundamentally, it’s courageous, independent, liberal journalism,” was one editor’s reply. “That’s the essence of the Guardian, or should be.”

Exactly right. But this also treats the Guardian as a product and I asked – in the spirit of Roussel’s effort to reimagine a paper – whether online it should be something else, with a different relationship to its public: a platform, a network, a community, a collaboration. Should the Guardian strive to be the world’s leading liberal voice – or voices?

Thanks again to Edward Roussel and Bob Wyman for inspiring the discussion.

Twilight of the curmudgeons

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Jay Rosen has been worrying about curmudgeons. I’ve developed a different attitude. I try to just ignore them and if I can’t, I yell at them. The other day, I was on the phone with a few consultants who were getting free advice, gladly given, but when I heard the fourth curmudgeons’ cry — this one: “Well, look at what’s on the home page of YouTube” — I finally had it and replied: You’re wasting my time. If you use that as your excuse to ignore the power and potential of YouTube and video then that’s your fault. Grrr. I do believe that the day of the curmudgeons is over. Their stewardship of the future has failed. Get out of the way.

But curmudgeons still do damage, of course. Vickey Williams at Medill’s Readership Institute says the force out young people, who take their new ways and innovations with them.

My work on changing culture in newsrooms shows that young journalists intend to leave because the pace of change is too slow. (Report here). They are turned off by the tendency of veteran journalists to argue down new ideas, cling to old ways, and avoid risks. As Readership Institute research has shown, those are outcomes of newspaper people’s tendencies to be oppositional, perfectionist and conventional.

I’ve seen the generational friction play out dozens of times as younger voices get shut down by veterans who fall back on ingrained behaviors. In one case, younger staff worked for weeks to develop and launch a blog on the paper’s Web site with a youthful perspective on the local scene. At the next staff meeting, most veterans said they hadn’t noticed and a few admitted never having looked at the paper’s Web site at all.

I’ll quibble on one point: It’s not about age. I’ve also seen plenty of young people who, having arrived in the castle, want to pull up the draw bridge behind them. I know lots of fellow graybeards who are eager bomb-throwers. I will also disagree with some of her advice, telling the veterans to help young people: “Offer cues on things like the importance of appropriate dress and that one well-considered memo can be more valuable than numerous emails.” You wouldn’t say that at Google.

I agree heartily with Williams that these institutions should teach innovators — I’ll call them that instead of young people — business “so they can make the business case for their ideas.” That’s why I teach entrepreneurial journalism. But I shuddered at this: “Engage them in meaningful ways — in problem-solving sessions, cross-departmental task forces, high-profile projects, post-mortems.” Those are the places where ideas go to die. Maybe instead they should be given the rope and resources to start new businesses.

Williams’ overall point is right and important: Curmudgeons do damage by killing change and those who bring it.

Wanna bet?

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In a comment on Ryan Sholin’s blog, Howard Owens said that when the economy comes back (God, Fannie Mae, and OPEC willing) so will newspaper revenue. I agree. But I was just thinking that I fear this may lull some companies into thinking they don’t have to change. (And for the record, Howard and Ryan’s company Gatehouse, whose stock is suffering right now, is nonetheless making lots of changes thanks to the efforts of those two guys.) So I decided to challenge Howard and all of you to a wager, which I just put up on Hubdub. Do you think a daily American newspaper (circulation 50K+) will fold this year?


(For those seeing this as it starts, the line starts at 75 percent likelihood because that’s what I said. I’m now eager to see the predictive wisdom of the crowd: you.)

[Full disclosure: I am an adviser to Hubdub and I work with companies that do business with Gatehouse.]

Google’s first step as a paper platform

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The other day (and again in my upcoming Guardian column) I quoted Telegraph digital head Edward Roussel speculating about shifting his paper’s platforms — business, sales, distribution — to Google.

Now here’s Paul Cheesbrough, the CIO of the Telegraph Media Group, making a first step in that direction. He tells CIO that he’s not updating Microsoft Office licenses and has opened up Google Apps for the entire newsroom.

“[As a pilot] we put 10 per cent of our 1400 user seat estate and allowed them to use Google Apps alongside their Office and Exchange infrastructure. Overwhelmingly, the feedback was positive and there would have been uproar if we had said we were turning it off. We were faced with the decision of whether we pursued the same [Microsoft] path and paid the price for that or put more and more internal solutions in the cloud.

“We made a conscious decision not to refresh any of [the Microsoft infrastructure]. We’re not going to remove it but we won’t upgrade it. . . . Google Apps is good enough and rich enough for us to do what we need to do. Collaboration has been very powerful [in Google Apps] and as people use Google Mail and Calendar they’ll naturally stray to use Google Docs. . . .

I think it might be time to sell my Microsoft stock.

What do you buy when you buy a newspaper?

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Alan Mutter runs the numbers to see which newspaper companies could be taken private and Mark Potts fears they could be taken private by private-equity blood/cash-suckers. A few examples: Mutter says the Times Company would need to borrow $2 billion to go private, Gannett $4.5 billion, and McClatchy a K-Mart flashing blue-light special of only $467 million.

But what are you buying when you buy a newspaper? And in a buy-or-build debate, which is the better bet? And if you just wait, will some of the giants just topple, leaving holes in the ground that’d be easier to fill from scratch?

Well, to start with, you’re buying cash flow, but that is only going to diminish and as too many private buyers of newspapers are finding, it’s getting tougher and tougher to cover debt expenses. You’re buying physical plants but — unlike, say, retail or fast food — they tend not to be in desirable areas. You’re buying union agreements; whoopie. You’re buying huge physical costs: presses, trucks, and other fast-depreciating assets. You’re buying shut-down costs galore.

Oh, but why be so gloomy? You’re also buying advertiser relationships, but those tend to be with the diminishing arenas of retail, jobs, auto, and homes — while Google is grabbing the growth by finally serving the mass of underserved small advertisers… and you’re not buying any expertise in how to compete. You’re buying reader relationships, but that, too, is shrinking and after witnessing the shrug that has met the killing of newspaper sections, one wonders how firm that relationship is. You’re buying a newsroom and though it has expertise in the locale, it is generally not prepared for the future and getting it retrained is a cost and a risk (lots of buyout expense there). And you’re buying a brand, but I fear that most of the equity there is in familiarity over affection (or, in some markets, trust). (I’d say the Times brand is worth proportionately more than a local brand.)

So I wonder whether even at bargain prices it’s any bargain to buy a newspaper.

Or would it be better to build? We’d need to look at a business plan to see what it would take to create a meaningful local news-and-advertising network (note that I said network, not product).

Or would it be better to find a perch and wait for the roadkill? I think that’s what HuffingtonPost is doing by installing an editor in Chicago. As we said the other day, one can also use Google and other technical, sales, and distribution platforms to build with little cost or risk.

I’d take those bets in reverse order. Knowing that carnage is inevitable, I’d figure out how to position myself to swoop into these markets. Then I’d start at least one strong local network so I had a proven template to take to other markets. And I wouldn’t invest a dime in an old newspaper company, no matter how cheap. That, of course, is why they’re getting cheaper and cheaper.

Wordle it

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I’ve been having fun playing with Wordle. This is a visualization of Buzzmachine as of yesterday, when I had a fair amount about NPR and radio. One answer to my API question below is that I’d like to see a Wordle visualization of every day’s Times or Guardian as another way to see hot topics and another path to them. of

Here’s a Wordle of and below that is one for Note that they are necessarily unsatisfying because they are just the home pages; I’d find it more interesting to look at the corpus of content today with weighting for the prioritization given that content by editors or readers. Anyway, you still get to see the top topics in each place and publication:

wordle of nytimes

Top topics: Barack (very big), withdrawl, slowdown, Dow, prices, scrimping.

wordle of guardian

Top topics: Washington (very big), church/Episcopal/African (on the denomination’s meeting and schism), Madeleine/Murat (on a big libel settlement).