Posts about newnews

Complementary news

The BBC is planning new very local services and Mark Thompson told newspaper editors that it might pay them for local content.

I think in both the UK and the US we will find a complementary architecture for national and local news evolving: The national licenses and pays for or promotes and links to local content; the locals do likewise for national content because neither can afford to do what the other does. I’ll write more about this later in a post I’m writing about what I’m calling reverse syndication.

I wrote some of this back in May in a Guardian column suggesting such a relationship for the BBC and other news providers.

Google and newspapers

Yesterday, I ranted about newspapers’ failure to invent new ways to serve advertisers, ceding the business to Google. Today I read on Greenslade a discussion of classifieds, Google, and newspapers at the Society of Editors. There is the usual debate in such gatherings: Is Google a friend or foe? I say that’s the wrong question. They should be asking: What is Google doing that we should be doing? How can we be doing it? What will Google do next? Can we get there first? And what can Google do that we can’t and how do we take advantage of that? Google is a reality. Arguing about whether it is friend or foe will do no more good than sitting back and watching it do what you should be doing. Google is still trying to figure out its proper role in this ecosystem. Read the last paragraph from Stephen Brooks’ coverage on Greenslade to see that:

Classified advertising could vanish from newspaper print editions by the year 2020, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger suggested to the Society of Editors in Glasgow.

Participating in a panel about the media in 2020 that included Nathan Stoll, the product manager of Google News, Rusbridger was up front in saying that he had no definitive answers about the future, writes Stephen Brook. “The honest answer to the question is nobody knows,” Rusbridger told the audience in a lively panel session which included much discussion about how newspapers will survive Google hoovering up much advertising.

“I predict that classified advertising could disappear from newspapers by 2020,” Rusbridger said. Classified adverts from the Guardian print edition were declining by about 9% a year while internet advertising on Guardian Unlimited was growing by about 50% each year – but from a much lower base. The Guardian was attempting to monetise its recruitment revenues with the launch of Guardian Recruitment Services, a full recruitment organisation rather than just a classified advertising service.

“Nobody in newspapers can decide if Google is the friend or their enemy,” Rusbridger said. “The friendly bit is that they drive lots of traffic back to us and we might be able to monetise that. What’s happening at the moment is that Google is hovering up stupendous amounts of money on the back of our content.

Robin Esser, executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, agreed. “The wider the message is spread the better but we need to be able to monetise that.” . . .

The youthful Google News chief said that the company was in the search and advertising business. “We are not content creators”. The next step for Google News is to do a better job in treating original content. “What we try and do is make sure than traffic goes to who properly produced a piece of work.” The Google News search algorithms will be refined to “expose original journalism”. The ultimate aim would be to build an “online ecosystem of publishers that is healthy”.

More coverage from the Press Gazette.

Networked, omnimedia journalism

Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger speaking to the Society of Editors endorses networked journalism and media agnosticism — pointing to NewAssignment.net and the Sunlight Foundation:

The future for newspapers was one beyond text, he said. Last week the Guardian was on eight platforms ranging from a video report on Newsnight to podcasts on iTunes. “I don’t spend time losing sleep over whether there will be a paper or not because there is nothing I can do about it,” he said. He predicted that reporters will become converged newsgathers. All reporters will work in at least five media and networked journalism would see professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, but he left open the question of who would edit it.

“I think you have to prepared to be surprised and you have to experiment like mad.”

SkyNews also presented an omnimedia view:

Thus Sky News will revamp its website so that its rolling news channel would be on its website. But web users will search for keywords and call up and play news clips on the topics that they want. Audiences will also call up news clips from a menu and send in clips from news events via mobile phones. Web users will customise the Sky News web page, so that the stories in their favourite topic areas are more prominent. A new digital channel Sky News 501, will offer TV viewers the same variety of options from the website.

Gannett explodes the newsroom

Well, good on Gannett. They’re exploding their newsrooms, changing how they are organized, how they operate, and tearing down the walls to the world formerly known as the outside. Jeff Howe at Wired tells the story and posts memos from Gannett on his Crowdsourcing blog.

Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened “information centers,” and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like “data,” “digital” and “community conversation.”

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

Now I’ve seen plenty of newsroom reorganizations in my day and they haven’t changed the biorhythms of news yet. But at the Online News Association, I was impressed hearing an editor at a Gannett paper in Delaware tell how he had turned his newsroom into a 24-hour omnimedia operation. Add to that the inside-out use of crowdsourcing and you have the Gannett plan.

I fear that the culture of the newsroom will do everything it can to stop this. Here this foot-dragging in Howe’s story:

Naturally, the newsrooms are wary of the changes, despite the results achieved in Fort Myers. “We’ve broken into task forces to figure out how to implement this, but some of this stuff, I’ll be honest, gives us great pause,” said one midlevel editor at a Gannett newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity.

This is precisely why I left my job. That is what stood in the way of change and, I argue, survival for newspapers.

Except Gannett could be different. Gannett newsrooms are smaller and younger (though don’t count on young staffers to be any more forward thinking and brave than their elders). And it’s hard for anyone in newsrooms today to deny that they’re in trouble (though many will try!). And top management is making a strong push for these changes. Said CEO Craig Dubow in his memo to the staff:

The changes impact all media, and the public has approved. Results include stronger newspapers, more popular Web sites and more opportunities to attract the customers advertisers want.

So perhaps this has a chance. I hope so.

It will work if success stories pile up. Journalists love to brag and if this structure gives them bragging rights, it will help. Howe reports on such a success story:

“We’ve already had some really amazing results with the crowdsourcing element of this,” said Jennifer Carroll, Gannett’s VP for new media content. “Most of us got into this business because we were passionate about watchdog journalism and public service, and we’ve just watched those erode. We’ve learned that no one wants to read a 400-column-inch investigative feature online. But when you make them a part of the process they get incredibly engaged.”

The most prominent example, Carroll said, occurred this summer with The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. In May, readers from the nearby community of Cape Coral began calling the paper, complaining about the high prices — as much as $28,000 in some cases — being charged to connect newly constructed homes to water and sewer lines. . . .

Readers spontaneously organized their own investigations: Retired engineers analyzed blueprints, accountants pored over balance sheets, and an inside whistle-blower leaked documents showing evidence of bid-rigging.

“We had people from all over the world helping us,” said Marymont. For six weeks the News-Press generated more traffic to its website than “ever before, excepting hurricanes.” In the end, the city cut the utility fees by more than 30 percent, one official resigned, and the fees have become the driving issue in an upcoming city council special election.

Now there is networked journalism in action.

I hope to hang out at a Gannett paper or two to see how it goes.

The dark cloud inside the silver lining of the dark cloud

The New York Times tries to find some good news in the newspaper industry’s dreadful circulation report but moments later, I see a Poynter analyst at Journalism.org blowing the foam off that latte.

Says The Times:

For starters, those circulation figures may not be as dire as they sound. A “significant portion” of the drop “results directly from the industry’s long-term, and arguably long-overdue, initiative to eliminate inefficient vanity and promotional circulation,” writes Allen Mutter on his blog, Confessions of a Newsosaur.

That means newspaper companies are cutting out discounted subscriptions, free papers at hotels and delivery to far-flung locales, none of them particularly appealing to advertisers and increasingly seen as not worth the cost.

Counters Poynter’s Rick Edmonds (my emphasis):

Yet there’s more to the story. [The Audit Bureau of Circulations] further breaks down paid circulation into categories of “over 50 percent” and “25 to 50 percent” of the paper’s cover price. [That is, highly discounted sales – jj] Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine plugged in those figures for a sample of the mid-sized and large papers of public companies and the results were clear: even these losses reported to ABC were achieved with a lot of deep discounting.

In other words fully paid circulation is typically falling even faster than the overall totals reported this week. Apparently, newspaper companies trying to bolster the numbers either pushed deeply discounted introductory offers at readers or extended discounts they were already offering many subscribers rather than trying to convert them to fully paid.

Suzy Sunshine Times:

Just as the lackluster circulation numbers were being dissected, the Newspaper Association of America released the results of a study it commissioned showing that when Internet readership is counted, the newspaper audience is actually way up — nearly 8 percent over all from February 2005 to March 2006.

Chicken Little Poynter:

A closer look at those numbers, however, underscores the difficulty of the industry’s current business dilemma. If you divide that monthly total into a daily one, there were roughly 1.9 million people visiting newspaper web sites each day in September. By the same calculation, the average time spent online would be about 1.4 minutes per day. (A recent NAA/Scarborough study estimated that the typical reader spends a little less than 30 minutes with the daily edition of the printed newspaper and more than 45 minutes on Sunday.) Those numbers may not be big enough to really make up for the loss in circulation.

Also, note the irony of The Times complaining:

Cluttered, hard-to-navigate newspaper sites proliferate. And many sites force readers to register, which Internet types say is counterproductive, when those readers can so easily go elsewhere for their news.

If you’d like to read the rest of that story, you will, of course, have to register.

: Newsosaur now punctures a hole in the aforementioned latte cup, pointing out that time spent on newspaper sites compares badly with other sites:

But the 41 minutes spent at newspaper websites in a month is fully 40% lower than the average 1 hour and 40 minutes that visitors linger at the 10 busiest web sites in a month, according to traffic statistics compiled by Nielsen/NetRatings in April.

: And while we’re on the subject of gravity and newspaper circulation, NewsDesigner does a great job of charting circulation against the timing of redesigns. I believe this project was partly inspired by a good post Jay Small wrote arguing that papers are overinvesting in design. As one of the commenters there says, it would also be useful to chart papers that have not had redesigns. But in any case, this demonstrates that redesigns are no cure for what ails papers. As another commenter there said, “We need a new boat.” Or to mix that metaphor: The lipstick ain’t doing it.

Trimming newspaper fat v. meat

After Howard Kurtz issued what I characterized as the common, kneejerk newsroom response to threats of cutbacks — oh, woe is journalism; ah, what will become of investigative reporting? — many of us piled on to say that newsrooms are bloated and need cutting — or more to the point, need to cut the crap so they can focus on what matters. Kurtz responds , quoting Jack Shafer and me and saying:

Not to spoil a good food fight, but I don’t disagree with any of that. Some newspapers are overstaffed. Not all budget cuts are bad. Not every newspaper in America needs to have a reporter covering the White House, or London, or attending political conventions and writing the same pap as everyone else. What’s more, lest they suffer the fate of General Motors by churning out gas-guzzlers, they need to move more boldly into the digital age, which probably requires smaller newsrooms than in the past as print circulations decline.

Here comes the ‘but’ . . .

But many of the corporate executives ordering these cuts don’t care about finding innovative ways to cover the news; they just want to please Wall Street by getting the payroll down.

But shouldn’t it be up to the editors of these newspapers to find those innovative ways to cover the news and to help the institution and its value survive the transition to the new world? Instead, we see editors stomping their feet, refusing to cut back as if there is no need to, as if it’s just some big, bad, greedy biz guys — instead of a post-monopoly market reality — forcing them to fire. Kurtz continues:

Investigative reporting doesn’t just mean maintaining separate SWAT teams. Beat reporters do important digging all the time, but that requires having a few extra days or weeks to pursue leads and pore over records. If, in depleted newsrooms, they have to churn out copy every other hour, the chances that they’ll look into the mayor’s land deal or the congressman’s favors for big contributors are greatly diminished.

But who says that kind of reporting is what should be depleted? If editors have the good sense and foresight to get rid of what’s not needed, they can put their resources where they matter: into reporting. And they can also find new ways to report. Kurtz:

Newspapers — good ones, at least — do two things that, if their staffs shrivel, no TV station, Web site or blogger will be able to match. One is to provide detailed local coverage of schools, hospitals, zoning battles and town councils. The other is holding public officials and business executives accountable with aggressive investigative work.

No one is saying that bloggers will replace journalists; let’s eliminate that red herring from the playbook. But bloggers can help. And the truth is that most metro papers and many local papers do a terrible job covering local schools and town councils; bloggers and other cooperative efforts in networked journalism could, indeed, increase a paper’s coverage as never before possible. And as for investigative efforts: Yes, we need more. Yes, we need reporters doing more. But here, again, when you open up to help, you may be able to report in new ways. Witness the Porkbusters, et al outing of Senators Byrd’s and Stevens’ secret hold on Congressional accountability legislation. I’m not saying that will replace investigative staffs but it can help, if you let it. Kurtz concludes:

They are also tradition-encrusted places that need to become less cautious, less stuffy and less arrogant. But if the critics think that a starvation diet will somehow produce healthier reporting, they are fantasizing.

The fantasizing we see in in newsrooms that believe newspapers can and should continue with business-as-usual, that newsrooms need to be as big as they are to get their real job done, and that they are doing a good job now.

I continue to believe that cutbacks will force newspapers to decide what they really are. The brave, wise, and strategic editors will get rid of the crap and invest more in the kind of reporting Kurtz properly celebrates. The wussy, job-protecting editors will do just what we see them doing: whining.

: At the end of Kurtz’ response, a bold headline said, “End of discussion.” That took me aback. Cheeky, I thought until I saw that it was the subhead over the next item. This discussion is far from over.

: See also the response of Jeff Crigler of Voxant.

Sell! Newspapers ‘in free fall’

In the continuing parlor game — “What would you do with ____ [fill in media organization here]?” — I’ve been asking people what the brash, bold, ballsy thing they would do. In newspapers, I’m hearing three such options:

1. Sell. Fast. Find some local egotist who wants to be a publisher and get the hell out of town. Today, Jack Welch is reported to be interested in buying the Boston Globe (see more grisly details in the Wall Street Journal). I’d take him out for a very drunken dinner and get him to sign on the line before it’s too late. The advantage for the seller is that the hell is over. The problem if you care about journalism or the community is that they will descend deeper into hell. Witness what is happening in Philadelphia now: The new owner of the paper is suddenly discovering that the business is shrinking and he’s better shrink it faster if he’s going to pay off his loans. Oops. Note well that the Times story said that the newspaper industry “appears to be in a free fall/.” Yow. [Disclosure: I still consult at The NY Times Co., but you can bet it’s not about strategic asset sales.]

2. Get out of the printing business and into the news business. I’ve heard more than one exec suggest trying to offload printing and distribution and concentrate on the real business of news and advertising. That doesn’t change the P&L much; you’ll have to buy those services so long as you are tied to a physical product. So it’s no cure for the business. But it gets rid of certain obligations and liabilities and makes other options easier — like selling the thing.

3. Give it away. A few weeks ago in the Guardian, a former newspaper editor made back-of-the-envelope calculations to argue that giving away the paper makes sense because it reduces marketing costs and increases circulation and ad revenue (while also increasing paper costs) but that the real value is that it would force the organization to stop protecting the paper and to drive people online. I like that in theory. I’ll be no one will have the balls to do it.

Note that I did not list going private. At best, that merely puts off the inevitable. See Philadelphia. Nor do I buy the argument that newspapers should become beneficiaries of not-for-profit foundations. That, too, is just an attempt to shield the paper from reality.

I am not ready to give up the idea that news is commercially viable. It is. News is getting bigger than ever. It’s just run with terribly inefficiency by the old guys. With a fresh start, news can and should be a viable business. See Netzeitung.

No, you have to do something brash, bold, and ballsy to drive the paper to its future. Anything else is as good as giving up.

: See also Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Daily News: “And so I’ve never been more pessimistic about newspapers than I am today.”

: And see this from PaidContent:

Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Fine came out with a report today on the state of the newspaper industry, and wrote that even as online rises in importance, but still small overall. “Although online now represents 6-7% of newspaper ad revenues on average, the proportion is still small overall. Even if we assume double-digit growth for online ad revenues through 2012 and then 5% thereafter, while print ad revenues drop by 1.5% annually, we do not see online representing over 50% of total newspaper ad revenues until more than 30 years from now. (Of course, we can get there sooner if print declines faster.) In terms of EBITDA, even if we assume 50% margins for online ad revenues and 25% for print (but declining slightly every year), a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that industry EBITDA will be flattish for the next 20 years, supporting our assumption of flat to slightly declining perpetual free cash flow for the industry.”

Well, I’d assume a faster drop for print. But I’ll also say this represents the essential problem of the industry: They think they can maintain (or grow) their monopoly-supported margins and cash flow. They can’t. News operations will have to be smaller. That doesn’t mean they have to be unprofitable. But bloat is out.

: And see Jack Shafer’s very good column today questioning the holy writ in newsrooms that more bodies means better journalism and questioning the even holier gospel that investigative journalism is the great protector of democracy.

However appalling newsroom downsizing may be for journalists, it will ultimately reveal what the people who run and own newspapers really think their publications are for. Scratch a serious reporter, and he’ll offer volumes about the “public service” his newspaper performs in the form of investigations: It watchdogs government. It keeps corporations honest. It uncovers the dastardly deeds of foreign dictators and prevents genocide. It exposes quacks and charlatans. (It turns the common man into a Socrates if he reads the editorials!)

Newspaper people have enormous egos, if you get my drift, and don’t mind massaging the big hairy things in public. Yet the press is hardly the sentry and bulwark of society reporters imagine it to be.

: But here a much calmer newspaper publisher, Carolyn McCall of the Guardian (which is owned by a trust), speaking in London. Three of her five points for managing the digital transition:

3. Innovation must be used for learning purposes. Newspapers can’t be afraid to fail. They must experiment and take risks to see what works. McCall mentioned the Guardian’s blog experiment, Comment is Free, which has proven a huge success with hundreds of contributing bloggers and dozens of comments on each post.
4. Software developers are now just as important as your journalists, an insinuation that would have been mocked only three years ago.
5. Newspapers must drive digital revenue growth.

[Disclosure: I write for and very occasionally consult for the Guardian.]

Killing the crap to save the news

Howard Kurtz — and most of the newspaper industry — is getting it wrong. Kurtz laments cutbacks at newspapers, fearing it will cut investigative reporting. I think what he should lament is the refusal of newspaper editors to wake up and smell the latte: all the wasted froth that squanderes their budgets. The newspaper has to learn what its real value is and that is, indeed, reporting and its editors have to stop defending raw numbers of bodies. They need to boil themselves down to their essence and they haven’t had the courage to do that yet. Stop wasting money on commodity news, ego, and fear and start investing it in reporting again.

: Roy Greenslade agrees to disagree with Kurtz:

Without wishing to be unduly rude about US journalists, seen from the British perspective, it appears that there are far too many of them being far too unproductive. The LA Times has 980 journalists at present, a huge staff compared to any serious British national paper. Yet we manage to hold our government to account. Ask Tony Blair is he can get away with anything without being scrutinised.

Now, I’m fully aware of the different journalistic cultural differences between us and them. I’m certainly not urging that US newsrooms should be cut to the quick. But it appears to me that there’s been a lot of feather-bedding on big monopoly metro papers in the States and the current crisis is providing an opportunity to hack away the hacks who do not contribute. Kurtz concludes: “If this erosion continues, it would be bad news for serious journalism, and good news for corrupt politicians.” But Howard, please get this into proportion. There’s a revolution going on and we need to think positively about that.

Amen, brother bombthrower.

And here comes Juan Antonio Giner with a lit fuse:

Of course … you need journalists, but for what?

To re-package the same news from the same sources?

To attend the same boring press conferences?

To publish today the same news that our readers knew YESTERDAY?

To produce pages and pages of commodity information with no value added?

To edit pages and pages of listings that could go directly to our web site?

To attend long and badly planned news meetings?

To expend hours and hours in front of our computers?

To work with not real feed-back from your editors?

To work with no time to think?

The real challenge in our industry is not how many people do we need, but to know how to change the rules and traditions of a newsroom management system that does not work anymore.

Firtst fix the newsroom management system, and then let´s discuss how many people do we need.

And then we will not have any problem to keep or find the best talent.

Today´s problem is the opposite: newspapers are loosing or not attracting talented people because our newsrooms are not creative places to work, to discuss, and to dream.

I am not about the people that leave (many of them with great early retirement packages) but about the people that stay in our newsrooms to work under the same conditions.

It is vital — for the survival of news(papers) that we have guts enough to rediscover our real value and essence and build from there. Cutbacks can help.

I think you begin by deconstructing the newspaper.