Posts about newsinnovation

Every page a home page

I went to Aftonbladet.se, the site of the large Swedish tabloid, to check out what Martin Stabe pointed me to: the impact of a paper’s site adding blog links to those bloggers. It’s a nice feature with popup profiles of the bloggers at each link.

But I discovered something even more interesting: We’ve heard news sites preach the gospel of making “every page a home page” since readers more and more are coming into content directly from search and links and not from a packaged home page. This presents the challenge of how to promote and lure readers to more content.

Well, Aftonbladet seems to have taken the every-page-a-home-page strategy quite literally: As I clicked around from story to story, the bottom half of each page was filled with the content from the home page. The home page followed me around, trying to tempt me to try something else they’d packaged and recommended.

The aggregated Times

Relevant to yesterday‘s post about the NYTimes Company’s International Herald Tribune outsourcing part of its business coverage to Reuters, Times Online in London says talks are underway for a deal with Mothership Times as well. Clearly, this would be a way for both to compete with the soon-to-be-invigorated Wall Street Journal.

Entrepreneurial lessons

I’m trying to catalogue some of the lessons I learned in my entrepreneurial journalism course at CUNY. There’ll be more, especially after the students and I share our postmortem in the final class, Wednesday. But here’s a start.

The students presented a dozen businesses to a dozen jurors who had it in their power to award up to $50,000 in seed money (thanks to a grant from the McCormick Tribune Foundation). I have said from the start that I couldn’t be too open about the class because these are the students’ proprietary ideas and if one of them has the next Google (or New York Times, for that matter), I don’t want to ruin it. So I’ll be brief (Saul Hansell already deftly and succinctly described many of them). And, besides, maybe one of you would like to invest:

The jurors were quite engaged by a proposal to have the public help decide what followup stories journalists should do. Other likely grantees (if the entrepreneurs answer some questions and meet some conditions): a multimedia blog serving BedStuy; a service to help high-school athletes sell themselves; a content/social service helping people in their late 20s and early 30s with personal finance even if they think it is boring; and an already-started online magazine for and by Muslim women (which has already sold an impressive 1,500 subscriptions at $20 each). The rest did not receive grants but as I told the students after the judging, I have taken businesses to some of the people on that very jury who turned them down, but those businesses went on to get funding and launch. That’s how startups work: seduction. There are more very good proposals in the bunch: a hyperlocal tourist site in Oregon (it was too small for the majority of judges but that’s precisely why it was a particular favorite of some of the others); a social site for teen girls built on existing social networks; a metablog and search engine for the best of the music blogs; a hyperlocal green blog, community, and directory; a social network for big-team sports fans; a series of videos about successful black businesswomen; and a site that captures what’s really happening in leading cities around the world from journalists working there.

The jurors — again, the list is here; they brought many distinct perspectives — were, I’m glad to say, quite engaged in the process. They asked very good questions — that’s what yields many of my lessons learned, below. They were passionate in their deliberations. And here’s the best part: Jurors volunteered to act as mentors to the students’ businesses. I couldn’t have asked for more from them.

So, some lessons:

* You can never be short and clear enough in your elevator pitch. This was one of the first things I told the students when we started together. When my old boss Steve Newhouse talked with the class, he told them about a company he’d bought, explaining what it did in 17 words, which he counted on his fingers as he told the students they should all do likewise. But at our jurying session last week, I saw the judges get confused a few times, and hearing these pitches through their ears, I understood why. In Hollywood, this is called high-concept: the show you can describe in one phrase (‘It’s Cheers meets Survivor and the audience gets to vote Cliff off the bar’). We make fun of that; it’s a sign of dumbed-down TV. But startups are different from sitcoms. If you can’t describe what you’re doing — to customers as well as investors — in 17 words, then you’re probably trying to do too much or you haven’t worked hard enough to define what you are doing or you simply aren’t describing it well and you’re going to lose people.

* I also wasn’t tough enough on the competitive analyses. They all did them, but the judges hammered hard on the marketplace. It is almost inevitable that when someone with a startup is asked about competition, he or she will answer, “none.” But I told the students that’s never true and, besides, in a networked world, you actually want company in your space. It gives you something to link to and it gives you an analogue others will understand. You can always be better than your competition, unless there is simply too much of it (which was the judges’ issue with a few of the students’ businesses).

* In one of the early classes, Jim Kennedy, VP for strategy at the Associated Press, heard all of the students’ then-still-nascent ideas, gave feedback to each, and then said: Well, guys you’ve all proposed websites; what’s up with that? We felt properly chastened and old-fartish. This is what inspired more than one of the students to build their businesses where they should have been conceived, atop existing social networks and platforms. And during the jurying, Fred Wilson also pushed one student to include SMS or Twitter feeds from the audience’s mobile phones as news. We should have spent some more time cataloguing the possibilities. That’s what the web is really all about: new possibilities, new opportunities. Hansell is right in his blog post: A critical lesson from the class is that media enterprises can be started atop existing platforms. So next time, we will catalogue them.

* I also required the students to formulate marketing plans — which, in most cases, means an analysis of social and viral potential. It was very hard for them to come up with comparable audience numbers and that is the underpinning of any media business plan. I’m not sure what to do about that. I also pushed students to do market research: to interview their customers (it’s just reporting). Those who listened that that benefiteed (one business, for example, changed its target audience when it found that the original target wasn’t as interested as they thought).

* I’m glad I spent a lot of time on advertising, getting down to the details of CPM, CPC, CPA, RPM, and all that. It was foreign to all the students — as it is to many or most journalists — but as they well understood, this is how they’re going to eat. The idea of selling ads is properly daunting for them, but the good news is that ad networks are beginning to emerge that may help support media enterprises such as these. At the end of a three-hour class session on ads, I asked whether the students were OK with what they’d just heard and one said, with a wry grin, “Well, that’s journalism.” A fellow student didn’t see or hear his irony and jumped down his throat, lecturing him about why we have to understand how to sustain and support journalism or else they won’t have jobs and we won’t have reporting. It was one of those moments in class you can’t pay for.

* My not-so-hidden agenda in the class was to teach journalists about business and sustaining journalism and I hope that mission was accomplished. Whether they start their own businesses or become managers or just so they can make wise career choices, I believe it’s necessary to understand the pressures and opportunities presented by the change in the economics of media.

* Journalistic entrepreneurship is not an oxymoron. To my amazement, every single one of the students said they wanted to start these businesses; I was hoping one or two might be so ambitious and independent. Now, of course, real job offers with real salaries will properly distract some of them. But the fact that these young journalists want to think entrepreneurially surprises and delights me. The fact that they realize they may need to work independently should surprise no one. It is a lesson to the industry: Give this kind of talent an opportunity to invent and innovate and they will.

* But we need an incubator. These businesses need ongoing advice and nurturing, most do. Just during the semester, I quickly learned that each student-entrepreneur and business needed even more individual attention than I’d anticipated; they and their needs were unique. If we are going to get innovation in the news and media businesses, then we need to bring help and resources to the effort. Just as big, old media companies can’t just sit there and think that the future will come to them — when, instead, it’s passing them by — so the industry has to actively support innovation with incubation. I have plans. More on that another day.

Bottom line: I loved being in this class. The course itself was a risky venture but it surpassed my expectations. As I’ve said here, I felt as if I were on the board of a dozen exciting startups. It was energizing working with the students’ creativity and passion — which was only intensified, frankly, by the possibility of real money (a stronger motivator than grades). I hope this also sends a small message to the industry about the possibilities for and need for innovation. And I hope at least one of these students might end up being the Pulitzer, Hearst, Ochs, Sarnoff, or Paley of this century. Could happen.

The world from a purse

I’m amused that the Times is wowed that Fox News has a small trick that can broadcast TV while moving.

Except iJustine can do that with nothing more than her purse.

Years ago, I told a friend of mine at News Corp. that TV should be putting web cams in the homes, offices, and even cars of experts and sources so they could go on the air anywhere, anytime. One of her TV colleagues pooh-poohed the idea, insisting that this wouldn’t give them “broadcast quality” (is that an oxymoron?).

And, of course, soon you won’t even need Justine’s purse. I met last week with Nic Fulton, who has been leading the mobile journalist project using a stock Nokia phone with software that lets a journalist publish video, audio, photos, and text. That’s not live — yet — but soon will be.

TV from a truck? Dern, what’ll they think of next?

How to be an entrepreneur, journalistically

Saul Hansell just wrote a wonderful post at the Times Bits blog about his experience as a juror in my entrepreneurial journalism class and how much entering the field of journalism has changed with so many new opportunities:

. . . . The ideas covered a wide range of topics — a hyper-local site for Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn to a global magazine for Muslim women — but what struck me was how much an aspiring publisher can now count on technology services to accelerate many parts of starting a business. Google’s Ad Sense, of course, was on nearly everyone’s plan as a source of advertising revenue. There are specialized ad networks too that were relevant to some ideas. One of the judges, Courtney Williams, who runs the interactive division of Radio One, a black-oriented radio station group, offered to include the Bed-Stuy site in his new black-oriented online ad network.

One proposal for a music site wanted a music blog search feature and figured it could simply count on Google’s custom search engine capability rather than embarking on the daunting task of building its own search engine. An idea for a site about how to live the eco-conscious life, planned to use Meetup to connect to users.

Social networking, of course, was high in everyone’s minds. Several people planned to use Ning, the social-network-in-a-box service started by Marc Andreessen. But the most discussion was about Facebook, and in particular whether today you could start an entire online service entirely within Facebook. Several ideas –i ncluding a concept on personal finance for young people, a service meant to match high school athletes with college recruiters, and a site meant for teenage girls — all contemplated whether they could piggyback entirely on Facebook.

Even the most old fashioned idea–the magazine for Muslim women — was accelerated by technology. The magazine, called Sisters, has actually started, run in part by Doaa Elkady, a CUNY student. She told the jury that the market Sisters is aiming for would prefer a printed magazine to an online site. What is interesting is that Sisters is starting by distributing a digital version of the magazine in PDF format, and it has 1,500 subscribers paying $20 a year already. She asked for $6,000 for advertising that could double the subscriber base and enable the magazine to start a printed version, its ultimate goal.

Indeed, most of the students asked for between $5,000 and $15,000, with which they felt they could get their ideas up and running. (Most figured they would have to work part time to pay their own rent.) Even if those numbers were wildly optimistic, the fact remains that in today’s world you simply don’t need to be hired by a publishing company with ad salesmen, layout artists, and printing presses to get your ideas into the world.

It seems to be a great time to be starting out in journalism. Just don’t ask advice from anyone who has been in the business for more than five years.

I will write about my experience in and lessons from the class in greater depth this weekend.

Up to the jury

Today’s an exciting day for me at CUNY: the jurying of the students’ business proposals in my entrepreneurial journalism course.

Eleven businesses are up for the chance to receive an award of seed money (thanks to a two-year grant from the McCormick Tribune Foundation). It’s a wide range: hard news, hyperlocal, sports, personal finance, teen, green, culture, world news, even a magazine. They’ll each have five minutes to present the business and the jurors will have about seven minutes to ask questions and push and probe. Then we’ll retire to the jury room (wine, beer, humus, and kebabs to be served) and decide which businesses deserve seed money. The class requirement was that the students come up with a sustainable journalistic enterprise. At Clay Shirky’s suggestion, we’ll also judge them on innovation. But at the end, it’s all about risk: The jurors have a bit more than $45,000 available. They don’t need to grant any of it; it’s up to them. They will act as investors and put the money where it will have the best chance of succeeding.

The jurors are a stellar bunch, all very generous with their time and advice: Fred Wilson, VC; Joan Feeney, editor and a founder at Entertainment Weekly and CondeNet; Betsy Morgan, ex of CBSNews.com and now CEO of Huffington Post; Catherine Levene, COO of Daily Candy; Ed Sussman, head of digital at Fast Company and Inc.; Courtney Williams, an executive at Radio-One; Jim Willse, editor-in-chief of the Star-Ledger; Debbie Galant, founder of Baristanet; Rikki Tahta, founder of Covestor; Andy Weissman, VC, now of Betaworks; Clay Shirky of NYU’s ITP; Saul Hansell of the New York Times. Others who’ve spoken with the class and given them advice but couldn’t make today’s session: Steve Newhouse, Advance.net; Jim Kennedy, vp of strategy at the Associated Press; Marcel Reichart, vp of strategy at Burda; Craig Newmark of craigslist; Steven Johnson, founder of Outside.in; Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda; Scott Meyer, CEO of About.com.

Only in New York could we have assembled such a cast of expertise in journalism, media, management, advertising, marketing, startups, and venture capital.

I’ll write about the class more after the jurying.

Keller responds

Bill Keller of the Times responded to my complaint about his speech and characterization of my views about professional, mainstream media and journalism and citizens. I’m glad we’re moving closer together but I still want to correct the record. The exchange. First, from Keller:

* * *

Jeff,

After reading your long response to my Guardian speech, I concede it’s time to push the Refresh button on my summary of the debate. It’s clear that you (and others I used to think of as blog triumphalists) have moved some distance from our 2005 “citizen journalist” exchange and from the day you lectured a New York Times offsite meeting about the certain doom mainstream media faced at the hands of amateur journalists (bloggers) and our own readers (Digg was big on your agenda that night.) I hope it’s clear — from what we’re doing on our website, and from that speech last week — that I’ve moved some distance in your direction. My respect for blogs as a tool of journalism is not the least bit grudging, and my conviction that professional journalists should collaborate with their audience is heartfelt. That’s especially true when you have an audience as educated and engaged as ours.

We may — I’m not really sure — disagree on the relative parts to be played by the amateur and the professional in our journalistic future, or on the pace of change. We don’t disagree on the value of what you call “networked journalism.”

My aim in the speech was not to demonize anyone, but to give heart to the many journalists and consumers of journalism who worry that quality journalism is endangered. For all the many things the new medium has brought, it has not supplanted trained reporters in the field, the discipline of good editors, or the backing of brave and independent journalistic institutions. And many mainstream journalists have proven themselves enthusiastic and agile practitioners of the new forms. The enemy, as I said in the speech, is not disruptive technology, not bloggers, not press-hostile government. It is the despair that derives from an inability to see the enduring value of the old and the promise of the new.

Cheers,
Bill

* * *

My response:

Bill,

Thanks so much for the response. I’m delighted that we’re meeting on the road, even though neither of us is exactly sure where it will lead.

I’m particularly glad to hear you endorse the value of networked journalism and I eagerly await seeing collaborative efforts from the Times and its public. You do, indeed, have a very wise crowd and that is a mighty force waiting to be mobilized to serve journalism and society. If I may suggest, you might even want to ask them for collaborative ideas; I’m sure they will have many good ones.

I’m also eager to push that refresh button and move forward, not back, leaving this tiresome us-v-them debate behind.

But I can’t do so without still correcting the record. I’m afraid you misremember and thus mischaracterize my stand. And considering that I am teaching students bound for professional journalism at CUNY and that I write about this very topic for the Guardian, where you spoke, it’s important to me to be clear on that record.

I’ve never predicted and certainly have not wished for the doom of professional journalism. Quite the contrary, I have been arguing — apparently not clearly or forcefully enough — that collaboration among professionals and citizens is a key not just to survival but growth for journalism.

If you can show me a citation to the contrary, I’ll fess up to it. But I do not find the sentiment you refer to in our 2005 exchange. Neither did I find it in the presentation I gave at the Times offsite. I looked up that Powerpoint and it included these lines:

We live in a post-scarcity era
Q: How do you grow with a citizens’ media world that doubles every 5 months?
A: You share: content, training, tools, promotion, and, yes, revenue.

And this:

The crowd is wise.
How do we enable the people we called our audience to become our partners?

And this:

How do we break free of the shackles of our medium and our history and become enablers… aggregators… connectors… networkers… trainers… vetters… and members of our community?

At the end, I filled a few slides with ideas for collaborative, networked efforts with your wise crowd and ended them with this hope:

This is how we grow.

Bill, that doesn’t sound like the threat of a would-be conquerer or the schadenfreude of a blog triumphalist with a death wish for mainstream media and journalism. Because it’s not. I have been consistent in this: I argue that we need professional journalism and organizations to survive and prosper and I hope that one way, just one way, to help journalism — indeed, to help it grow — is to work collaboratively with the public because now we can. That was the point of my initial hubristic open letter to you that started our exchange. I want to see these worlds come closer together, not move farther apart. That is my constant theme.

So we agree that we need journalists trained and supported in reporting and neither I nor any blogger I read has ever suggested that they should be supplanted. They can, however, be complemented.

There is nothing to be served by continuing the us-v-them debate. It is unproductive and ultimately damaging and certainly has become boring. Can we mutually call it over? Yes, press that refresh button, please. Let’s talk instead about the new opportunities we have to support journalism — both the activities and the business of journalism — by using new tools, including those of collaboration. As I said in my blog response to your speech, I would very much like to hear your vision for that, your vision for the future we all want journalism to have.

Early next year, I’ll be holding a conference next door at CUNY on new businesses models for news. Let’s discuss it there.

As is my habit, I’ll be blogging this: a coda to our earlier exchange.

Thanks,

- jeff

* * *

LATER: Keller responded to my email and I to his, both below. I don’t intend to make this a Dickensian serial as was our last exchange. But I’ll share the latest. From Keller:

Jeff,
It’s nice to renew the conversation, and thanks for clarifying your views on the coexistence of professionals and amateurs. Whether or not you intended to come across as a blog triumphalist and prophet of mainstream media doom, that’s certainly the way your audience — at that Times event — understood you. Perhaps it was in the ear of the beholders. In any case, I’m happy to be corrected, and will be careful to credit your good sense and good will when this subject comes up again.
Cheers,
Bill

And my reply:

Bill,
Oh, doom is still possible if mainstream stewards do not care for their charges. We agree that the collapse of professional journalism would be tragic. I warn against that. But then, as I demonstrated with the slides I quoted in my last email, I try my best to suggest how that doom might be averted — and I’m glad to see the Times taking some of those steps. Does that make me an advocate of doom? Hardly. A prophet of doom? Not even. An ally in the race against doom? I’d hope so. I think this is a case of what I heard from the natives when I lived in California (and one also hears from veterans of therapy in New York): You and your colleagues may be “projecting.” I suggest that the paper’s management should stop seeing enemies at every corner and start seeing allies, even colleagues. That’s my point.
Onward. I’m eager to hear your ideas for collaboration with citizens and see these ideas in the paper and online.
best
jeff

* * *

Meanwhile, friend Jay Rosen sends this wonderful example of the potential for mobilizing citizens in acts of journalistic collaboration from — cough — the Washington Post and Dan Froomkin, writing at NewAssignment.net, HuffingtonPost, and Neiman Watchdog (now that’s thinking distributed):

Bloggers and other citizen journalists have a new and exciting opportunity to find and shed light on stories the mainstream media are missing – by combing through transcripts of recent Congressional oversight hearings. Without any fanfare, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has started posting preliminary transcripts of many of its hearings on its Web site, giving everyone a chance to pore through testimony and find news the MSM may have overlooked.

After four years during which virtually no administration officials were called to Capitol Hill to explain themselves, the new Democratic majority in January revived the tradition of closely examining Executive branch activities, with House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman leading the charge. But with a few exceptions, you wouldn’t know it from reading the paper or watching the news. One of the dirty little secrets of Washington journalism is that very few news organizations assign staff to cover anything but the most high-profile hearings and debates on Capitol Hill. As a result, few if any reporters show up for oversight hearings – and those who do tend to leave early. . . .

This is a great opportunity for citizen journalists to become Washington reporters. If you find some overlooked news in these or other transcripts, e-mail me your blog posts or your findings, and I’ll try to make sure that they aren’t overlooked as well.

The fount of all news

Peter Horrocks, head of the BBC Newsroom, writes about the consolidation of its news operations across all media. Now one newsroom serves radio, TV, and online and he’s its boss.

Practically every news operation I know of is struggling with this now: to consolidate or not?

I was on the side of separation at the beginning of the web and for good reasons. At Advance, where I used to work, we set up separate online operations to make sure that what was made for the web was appropriate to the web (not just a PDF of a newspaper) and to assure that the web gained its own value (and wasn’t just given away to advertisers as value-added). That worked.

But I’ve come to think that consolidation is inevitable. Any news organization has to get to the point where there is no difference between old media people and new media people. That takes much training and more mixing of tribes than the end of a season on Survivor (but just as much loss and pain).

This is, of course, easier said than done. At the same time, more technical skills are needed; one could consolidate too much and, in the words of one of my students, turn every journalist into an eight-armed monster — and do a halfassed job in any medium. And revenues are going down. And managers try to wrangle two completely different business models for industries in completely different life cycles under the same roof with the same people.

But at the end of the day, whenever that will be, we know this: Every journalist needs every tool to gather and tell every story how best it should be told. Every reader/listener/viewer/user should be able to get the news however, whenever, and wherever he or she wants. News operations won’t be able to afford the inefficiency of separate staffs all putting out the same news. And that’s why I think consolidation is inevitable.

So that takes yet another new management skill: mixing two or more cultures and operations into one (and hiring the right kind of people to help and, yes, getting rid of those who can’t and won’t come along). I think that training needs to be aimed not only at eliminating the line between old and new skills, it also needs to show new ways to do journalism better, to give an understanding of the new ecosystem in which media live, and to instill a culture of innovation.