Posts about newspapers

Compare/contrast

Tweet: Compare/contrast Rupert Murdoch on the internet (and me) then and now.

In 2005, Rupert Murdoch gave a rousing speech to the American Society of Newspapers Editors calling on them to listen to digital natives. Yesterday, his deputy, Les Hinton, gave a speech to the World Association of Newspapers in India warning them to beware geeks bearing gifts.

Murdoch in 2005:

Like many of you in this room, I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t weaned on the web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralized world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few editors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives. They’ll never know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access.

The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants – many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated — to apply a digital mindset to a new set of challenges.

We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from….

The challenge, however, is to deliver that news in ways consumers want to receive it. Before we can apply our competitive advantages, we have to free our minds of our prejudices and predispositions, and start thinking like our newest consumers. In short, we have to answer this fundamental question: what do we – a bunch of digital immigrants — need to do to be relevant to the digital natives?

Murdoch deputy Hinton yesterday:

We are all allowing our journalism – billions of dollars worth of it every year – to leak onto the internet. We are surrendering our hard-earned rights to the search engines, and aggregators, and the out-and-out thieves of the digital age.

It is time to pause and recognize this – Free Costs Too Much. News is a business, and we should not be ashamed to say so. It’s also a tougher business today than ever before. We have survived other perceived threats – radio, television, cable TV. But this time it is different.

How can it be that the Internet offered so much promise and so little profit? I guess a lot of newspaper people were taken in by the game-changing gospel of the internet age. It was a new dawn, we were told. A new epoch, a new paradigm. And we just didn’t get it.

Like an over-eager middle-aged dad, desperate to look cool, we ended up dancing obediently to other people’s tunes. For a while. You can almost hear the music – an algorithm and blues soundtrack – accompanying the harbingers of the new economy with the new rules of the new age. Their rules.

These digital visionaries tell people like me that we just don’t understand them. They talk about the wonders of the interconnected world, about the democratization of journalism. The news, they say, is viral now – that we should be grateful.

Well, I think all of us need to beware of geeks bearing gifts.

Listen to digital natives or beware them? Which is it?

On a personal note, see Murdoch on me in 2005 (a plug I was given because I helped Murdoch’s then speechwriter, Gary Ginsberg, with the substance of the talk):

Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle. Think about how blogs and message boards revealed that Kryptonite bicycle locks were vulnerable to a Bic pen. Or the Swiftboat incident. Or the swift departure of Dan Rather from CBS. One commentator, Jeff Jarvis, puts it this way: give the people control of media, they will use it. Don’t give people control of media, and you will lose them.

Now see Hinton referring to me yesterday:

Or as Jeff Jarvis, one of the leading proponents of the information-must-be-free imperative puts it: The content economy is over. Is it really?

(By the way, I’m not part of that crowd. Jay Rosen would challenge Hinton for a link.)

Media after the site

Tweet: What does the post-page, post-site, post-media media world look like? @stephenfry, that’s what.

The next phase of media, I’ve been thinking, will be after the page and after the site. Media can’t expect us to go to it all the time. Media has to come to us. Media must insinuate itself into our streams.

I’ve been trying to imagine what that would be and then I was Skype-chatting with Nick Denton (an inspirational pastime I’ve had too little of lately) and he knew exactly what it looks like:

@stephenfry.

Spot on. Fry insinuated himself into my stream. He comes to us. We distribute him. He has been introduced to and acquired new fans. He now has a million followers, surely more than for any old web site of his. He did it by his wit(s) alone. His product is his ad, his readers his agency. How will he benefit? I have full faith that he of all people will find the way to turn this into a show and a book. He is media with no need for media. I was trying to avoid using Aston Kutcher as my example, but he’s on the cover of Fast Company making the same point: “He intends to become the first next-generation media mogul, using his own brand as a springboard…. ‘The algorithm is awesome,’ Kutcher says…”

That’s media post-media.

This view of the future makes it all the more silly and retrograde for publishers like Murdoch to complain about the value of the readers Google sends to them. Who says readers will or should come to us at all? We were warned of this future by that now-legendary college student who said in Brian Stelter’s New York Times story (which foretold the end of the medium in which it appeared): “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

If a page (and a site) become anything, it will be a repository, an archive, a collecting pool in which to gather permalinks and Googlejuice: an article plus links plus streams of comments and updates and tweets and collaboration via tools like Wave. Content will insinuate itself into streams and streams will insinuate themselves back into content. The great Mandala.

The notion of the stream takes on more importance when you think about your always-connected and always-on device, whatever the hell you call it (phone, tablet, netbook, eyeglasses, connector….). I recently saw a telecommunications technology exec show off a prototype of a screen he says will be here in a year or so that not only has color and full-motion video and can be seen in ambient light but that takes so little power that it can and will be on all the time. So rather than hitting that button on the iPhone to see what’s new, your post-phone post-PC device is always on and always connected. You don’t sneak it under the table to turn it on now and again. You leave it on the table and it constantly streams.

Is that stream news? Only a small portion of your stream – whatever you want, whatever you allow in – will be. Just as publishers’ news is only a small portion of the value of what Google returns in search, we mustn’t be so hubristic to think that the streams flowing by readers’ eyes will be owned, controlled, and filled by media with what they declare to be news. They will be filled with life.

The real value waiting to be created in the stream-based web is prioritization. That’s part of what Clay Shirky is driving at when he talks about algorithmic authority and what Marissa Mayer talks about when she says news streams will be hyperpersonal. The opportunity in news is not to try to mass-prioritize it for everyone at once – impossible! – but to help each of us do it. To make that work, it will have to be personal and personal will scale only if it’s algorithmic and the algorithm will work only if we trust and value what it delivers. So how do you learn enough about me, who I am, what I do, and what I need so you can solve my personal filter failure and show me the emails and tweet and updates and, yes, news I’ll most want to read? What tricks can you bring to bear, as Google did and Facebook did: the wisdom of a crowd – perhaps my crowd? the value of editors still?

So imagine this future without pages and sites, this future that’s all built on process over product. If you’re what used to be a content-creation – if you’re Stephen Fry, post-media – you’re all about insinuating yourself into that stream. If you’re about content curation – formerly known as editing – then you’re all about prioritizing streams for people; that’s how you add value now.

Getting people to come to you so you can tell them what you say they should know while showing them ads they didn’t want from advertisers who bear the cost and risk of the entire experience? That’s just so 2008. Now it’s time to go with the stream.

Worthless readers

Tweet: Worthless readers. And what to do about Murdoch et al’s whining about them.

One response publishers make to my argument that Google drives value to them and their content in the link economy is that the readers Google sends are worthless.

Worthless readers. WIliam Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, Joseph Medill, Katherine Graham, and C.P. Scott are rolling (with pained laughter) in their graves. Since when did readers become worthless? Since when did a newspaper have enough readers?

“We can’t monetize those readers,” the hapless publishers whine. What’s the problem with these readers? “They read just one article and then leave,” is one complaint. “We can’t sell enough ads,” is another. And how is that Google’s fault?

No, this is the publishers’ failure and fault, not Google’s. Only the publishers can fix it. That they would rather complain than try is only evidence that they have given up on growth, on optimism, on the future. Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, have said they would rather shrink to more valuable (read: paying) customers, but then James has also said that News Corp. is no longer a news company but a TV company. It’s one matter to get rid of readers who cost too much because your trucks drive too far to deliver newspapers to them or you bribe them too often with bingo/wingo or sneakerphones to get them to subscribe. But online, more readers costs you nothing but bandwidth, which keeps on costing less. So Murdoch pere et fils have surrendered.

I choose not to. I say there is plenty they could do:

1. Relevance. Publishers should provide more relevant links and content to satisfy and serve these readers. I learned at About.com, where I consulted, that the most effective means of driving more traffic into the site, rather than away, was relevant links. Readers may come via search but may not find what they are looking for, so offer them more. If someone came to your restaurant for the crab cakes, wouldn’t you also offer slaw?

2. Context. I want to suggest abandoning the article for the constantly updated topic page (a la Wave). The problem with an article online is that it has a short half life and gathers few links and little ongoing attention and thus Googlejuice. It’s for this reason that Google’s Marissa Mayer has been advising publishers to move past the article to the topic. Abandoning the article for some living, breathing news beast yet to be defined may be a bit too radical for today’s publishers. So instead, I suggest, at least place the article into a space with broader context – archives, quotes, photos, links, discussion, wikified knowledge about the topic, feeds of updates; make the article a gateway to anything more you’d want on its subjects. Daylife (where I’m a partner) is working on something like that.

3. Sell. When someone comes in from search without a cookie attached, you know this person is not a regular reader. Yet you give her the same page you give to your constant readers. What you should do, instead, is sell the wonders of your site. Show off your best and most popular stuff. I’ve heard and used the phrase “every page a home page” for years, but I’ve never seen a publisher mean it, except for Stockholm’s Aftonbladet. Go to the site, click on most any store, and scroll down and you will find the entire home page replicated. Insane? Like a Swede.

4. Sell ads. OK, so this search-driven reader may not be local and so you can’t serve an ad for the hospital up the street. What sites do instead is place remnant network ads there at terribly low CPMs; that is why they complain about the value of readers who come from Google, Drudge, et al. But Dave Morgan’s Tacoda solved – at least until it was swallowed up by AOL [pardon me, Aol.] – by using data points across sites to maximize the value of ads served (e.g., someone who visits a travel site is served a high-CPM travel ad even after leaving and going to a harder-to-target local site). I’ve been arguing for reverse syndication as a means of maximizing ad value and even suggested that papers should link together to sell their national inventory (oh, that’s right, they tried to in the New Century Network but couldn’t get their act together … surprise!).

5. Kill commodity news and cost. Focus. Part of the problem is that papers carry commodity content that draws audience – via search – that is hard to target with local advertising. That commodity content also costs money to produce. A key imperative of the link economy is that one must specialize – to draw the “right” audience and to find the efficiency that comes from doing what you do best and linking to the rest. The better job a paper does focusing, the more it can create appropriate content to attract appropriate audience and advertising and the more economically it can operate.

6. Stop whining. It’s unbecoming. It makes you look weak and wimpy as if you have no strategy and no control over your vision and have just given up on adapting to new realities and growing by finding new audience and building a future but only plan to milk the last drops out of your dying business. Or maybe that’s all true.

: See Danny Sulllivan, who beat me to writing this post.

This is round two against Google. In round one, some publishers said Google steals our content. Google’s response was that it sends them millions of visitors for free. So in round two, it’s time to make out like those visitors aren’t worth much. That’s especially important if you’re an executive who, after floating the idea of dropping Google, comes under attack as stupidly cutting your own throat.

Me, I see visitors as opportunities. This is the internet, where you can tell far more about a visitor to your web site than you can in print. . . .

Do something. Anything. Please. Survive. But there’s one thing you shouldn’t do. Blame others for sending you visitors and not figuring out how to make money off of them.

See also Umair Haque: “Blocking Google is about as smart as eating a pound of plutonium.”

: On Twitter, Steven Johnson asks: “unless they’re “worth less” than the cost of serving the page, what’s the harm since Google delivers them for free?”

The half-life of news

At a Yale conference a week ago, Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer talked about the life cycle of the value of news in his business.

When a piece of financial news come out, it is at its most valuable for a very short time, he said. I asked him later how long that is. “Milliseconds,” he replied. Milliseconds. That’s as long as a computerized trader has to take advantage of news before the market knows it, before the news is knowledge and is thus commodified and loses its unique and timely value.

Reuters still gets high value out of its news in stages, turning this tidbit into a headline and a story and selling it as part of its financial data services and then its wires. It finally lands on Reuters’ web site, visible to consumers, where Reuters collects ad revenue directly. That, Glocer said, is about 2% of Reuters’ revenue.

Of course, one can’t view this timeline in isolation. The news is being spread in all kinds of vectors: other news organizations get it and it’s masticated and repeated in print (slow), on broadcast (faster), on websites (faster), by aggregators (faster), by conversation (aka Twitter – getting faster all the time). The faster that distribution is, the quicker news becomes knowledge and thus a commodity, the faster it loses its unique, saleable value. And that chain is getting only faster.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one reason why trying to lock up the value of news behind a wall won’t work, in my estimation.

New Business Models for News talk

Here’s my talk on CUNY’s New Business Models for News at our summit in New York:

Jeff Jarvis on New Business Models for News 2009 from CUNY Grad School of Journalism on Vimeo.

And here’s my latest Prezi:

Newspapers want enemies, not friends

On today’s On Point, Michael Wolff, Steve Brill, and I talked about Murdoch and Google and the show’s blog quoted me thusly:

But News Corp isn’t the only one making the mistake here. I think the mistake that Google has made in this – and I’m an admirer of Google, I wrote a book to that effect – but I think that Google thought that they could become friends with the newspaper industry. And the newspaper industry isn’t looking for friends. They’re looking for enemies they can blame for the problems that are actually their own from the last fifteen years of inaction in the face of this dying light. And so it’s impossible for Google to become friends with the newspaper industry.

The opportunity of bankruptcy

Tweet: How bankruptcy can help a newspaper get theah from heah. Don’t squander it. **

I fear that Tribune Company – and other newspaper companies – will come out of bankruptcy having squandered the opportunity it presents to rebuild from the ground up.

At the New Business Models for (Local) News Summit at CUNY last week, my friend and mentor Jim Willse, late of the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, asked us to create a model for an existing news organization to morph into what we proposed as the new structure. That’d be painful and thus controversial, I said, to which Willse – never one to mince words – responded, “No shit.”

Can they get theah from heah? I’m not sure. A company that employed more than a thousand workers may end up employing just a hundred as it gets rid of printing and distribution infrastructure – the barrier to entry that became a barrier to change. Those shut-down costs are tremendous (that’s where bankruptcy helps, though). The cultural shift for people who remain is huge (I have spoken with many newspaper and magazine folks lately who – like me – held out hope that it was possible … until they gave up and quit). The need to reinvent business methods and models is urgent. And in the end, if it all works, the new company will be much smaller, a fraction of its former size, which is hard for executives, analysts, and shareholders to swallow – but it’s profitable and thus sustainable and that has to be the ultimate goal.

To make this volcanic transformation, I say a newspaper must start by getting out of the printing business (as Dave Morgan argued at our CUNY conference last year). Oh, it may still print a product as long as enough advertisers and readers stick with it to make it profitable and as long as it is valuable to promote the the digital brand of the future. But print can no longer drive the business; it’s just not sustainable.

When the Ann Arbor News folded this summer and was replaced by its owners with an online, community-based site, they chose to continue publishing twice a week to continue distributing coupons, circulars, and ads; it is printed by another paper in the company. [Disclosure: I consulted on the project.] Similarly, in the UK, the Birmingham Post went online and went weekly in print. My reputation aside, I’m not religiously opposed to paper. But maintaining a printing business is no longer an advantage; it’s a burden. So I say get out of the business and outsource whatever printing you do.

What about distribution? Well, as the circulation of the paper dwindles to naught, its value as a delivery platform also falls – to the point that coupon companies and stores like Best Buy will have to find alternative means of distribution. I think there’s a nice, if transitional business there for someone. Should it still be the newspaper company? Well, I’d give the same advice that is given to every startup: concentrate on one thing and do it well, get rid of the rest. So I’d say the paper should – as many pretty much do today – outsource its distribution.

Ad sales? That’s perhaps the toughest transition. Classifieds aside (they’re permanently lost anyway), newspapers are built to sell mass metro audiences to large advertisers. Sales staffs don’t drum up new business so much as they manage existing lists. Those folks aren’t likely to be able to sell entirely new kinds of advertising highly targeted marketing help for whole new populations of smaller merchants who couldn’t afford the newspaper before. Beside, such a staff doesn’t scale when you have to sell to so many new customers in networks. Build-it-and-they-will-come automated platforms don’t work; advertising still must be sold. This is why, in our models, we projected new sales forces – citizen sales – arising to sell at a local level. So for our transforming paper, I’d build networks of local sites and local sales and keep just enough of the old people to sell the big, old accounts that remain – if they can be re-educated.

Marketing is all but gone. If this newly constituted service isn’t sold by its public – if that public doesn’t collaborate with it and feel an ownership stake – then it will fail.

Now for editorial: I’ve written often about the new roles journalists will take on. As the marginal cost of information in a community falls to zero – as the internet and its tool enable communities to share much or most of what they know and need to know – then the question for journalists is how they add value and fill in gaps with reporting at the core as well as curation, community organization, and training. In our models, we forecast almost as many journalists as worked in the old paper newsroom, but they work for – and often own – more than a hundred companies. The core of journalists working at the new news organization is smaller.

Bankruptcy enables a newspaper company to shed its past. It can get out of contracts and leases for paper, printing plants, delivery, trucks. It can also get out of labor contracts, reducing severance costs. That is terribly painful but I fear it is as inevitable as the end of the ITU (the typesetters’ union). It offers a one-time chance to rethink, reinvent, and rebuild the company for the future. Is it better to stretch out the pain and never get anywhere? And if tough decisions and actions are not made, the likelihood that the company will die and all will be lost only increases.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has already come out of bankruptcy but without such a radical transformation. It, like other news companies, is taking out bricks a few at a time rather than building a new kind of company. That’s the opportunity I fear other bankrupt newspapers – Tribune Company, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Sun-Times – are squandering. The same can be said of other industries.

To take advantage of bankruptcy, a company has to have courage and bold visions of the future. Do newspaper companies? So far, we haven’t seen evidence of it. But it is possible.

** At Craig Newmark’s good suggestion, I am going to try to summarize posts – longer ones, at least – at the top. Old fart that I was, I at first thought of this as a UK-style subhed. But then I realize that the appropriate model is to put it in a tweet. So I’ll try that.

’nuff said

Dilbert.com

(Thanks, Ed Reading)