Posts about lastpresses

Guardian column: An online news success story

My Guardian column this week tells the success story of Netzeitung. Since I haven’t written about that here, I’m copying the full column below (it’s also here).

A grand experiment in the future of news is succeeding. Pity most of you can’t read it, since it’s in German. But thanks to an accident of school scheduling that plopped me into a German class, I’ve been able to follow Netzeitung.de since it was founded in Berlin in 2000 as a net-only newspaper. It’s not a blog, a search engine or an aggregator. It is a newspaper without the paper, but with 60 journalists reporting the news. Netzeitung has not only survived the internet bubble and a ping-pong game of corporate sales, it has acquired other media properties; it is starting an ambitious effort in networked journalism with citizen reporters; and it is set to be profitable this year. Ausgezeichnet!

Dr Michael Maier, Netzeitung’s editor-in-chief and business head, is an experienced and respected journalist: former editor-in-chief of the Berliner Zeitung, Stern and Vienna’s Presse. No blogger, he. When I met him after he and his partners brought the concept of a netpaper from Norway – where its big sister, Nettavisen.no, is still in business – Maier was adamant that he would have his own staff producing news. I tried to push my populist agenda of interactivity and citizens’ media, but he would have none of it. He was starting a newspaper, dammit, and newspapers have reporters.

In the years since, Netzeitung was bought by Lycos, then by Bertelsmann, then by Maier and a partner, who sold it to Scandinavia’s Orkla, which itself is being acquired by the press baron David Montgomery. Maier says he is glad none of his many masters was a traditional German newspaper, for he doubts he could have developed Netzeitung under its roof. I agree. I got nowhere trying to convince American publishers to try a paperless paper. They are addicted to ink.

Netzeitung remains impressive in the breadth, depth and the timeliness of its reporting. It is among the internet’s most cleanly designed news sites. Maier says the service now serves 1.2 million readers per month. It reportedly will earn €8m this year. It has acquired other large German sites for technology, health and cars. It recently took over a Berlin radio station, and so the online site produces both radio shows and podcasts (what’s the difference?). And it produces online and videotext news for German TV. This experiment in online news has become a budding media empire.

But what brought me back to revisit Netzeitung is its latest effort: Readers-Edition.de, an online paper by and for das volk. True to form, Maier insists that the people must report: “We don’t publish commentary.” So citizen reporters submit news and photos on politics, sports, technology and business. Netzeitung, the parent, puts the best on its home page and then pays the contributors.

Maier says his online journalists were at first afraid of these interlopers. But he also says his reader/writers are better at working with links than ordinary reporters, are fast (helping him scoop competitors), and are smart (they gave him an exclusive on a revival of the 60s radical group the SDS).

One reason we bloggers like blogging is that we have no editors. But the Readers-Edition contributors do: a team of fellow reader/writers act as volunteer moderators with the help of one Netzeitung journalist. They get together in meetings across Germany to share tricks of the trade. They even share rejected stories so contributors can learn what it takes to make the grade. Now that’s transparency.

I wonder whether this model could work elsewhere. The other citizen-written online newspaper of note, South Korea’s OhmyNews, has had difficulty replicating itself in other countries; its political and media landscape may be unique. And when I ran online sites in the early days, I tried to copy what I saw on German sites by having volunteer moderators keep peace in chatrooms. It worked in Germany, where users respected rank, but not in the US, where moderators got power-mad and users revolted.

I would love to see both Netzeitung and Readers-Edition spread, for we need more answers to questions asked at nearly every journalism conference I attend, namely how will we support journalism in the future? What are the business models for news? How does journalism survive post-press? I hope the answers lie in creating vibrant and successful newspapers that do not depend on paper. I hope the answers lie in creating networks that allow professional and amateur journalists to work together. And I hope the answers are also in English, since I didn’t pay much attention in that German class.

Print? So what?

Scott Donaton writes an important column in AdAge — important especially because of his audience: the advertisers who, together with publishers, cling stubbornly to old media and thus hold back the transformation to the new. He takes off on the Wall Street Journal’s strategic planning and asks when — not whether — the print version should die:

But certain forms of media that are currently print-based, particularly daily newspapers, must explore the possibility that there are more reader-friendly and cost-efficient ways to produce and distribute their content.

It’s still surprisingly difficult to get traditional media executives to admit this. But their resistance seems based on an emotional attachment to ink on paper, a deeply held — if largely indefensible — sense that a newspaper’s soul is inextricably linked to its format.

Which is nonsense. Scary as they are, some things must be confronted, including our overly romanticized notions of what a newspaper is.

Driving readers online: update

An update and correction to the post below: I just heard from Ed Roussel, editorial director of the Telegraph group, who says it’s not true that his paper will delay stories until after publication in print. In fact, he said, they have already shifted people to earlier schedules to get news out sooner. They are not trying to put every story online before print (which is where the Guardian is apparently headed) but they are free to put up anything short of a big scoop they want to save (which will be the same for everyone).

How did this meme start? He said at the World Association of Newspapers session in Moscow, there was discussion about content management systems and the ability to schedule publication to the web and it grew out of that. So they’re playing wack-a-mole on the tale now.

While I had him, I asked Ed whether the Telegraph has plans to invade America, like the Guardian and the Times of London. He said no. “The reality is that we want to do the best possible job of writing for our readers and the core of our readership is British people,” which includes expats. He said they already had a third of their online readership is in the U.S. And he said that the track record of British companies making a go of it in America is limited.

: LATER: More from Shane Richmond at the Telegraph about this.

Trees cheer

Merrill Lynch predicts, via Ad Age, that this year, revenue for online will surpass that for both magazines and yellow pages.

The emperors’ new underwear

When I said I wanted to see more transparency in newspapers, I didn’t mean that they should be sharing their family squabbles…. though I am glad they are, for it’s just so entertaining.

I’m already over the Froomkin kerfluffle but I’m amazed at the newsroom sniping that’s coming out in public. See Brad DeLong’s incredible phone interview with Washington Post political editor John Harris:

Q: So you knew [Ruffini] had been a Republican operative in 2004, and didn’t tell that to Jay Rosen?

A: [Ramble of which I caught only scattered phrases] But assuming you aren’t posting this at least immediately… A good relationship between the print Washington Post and WPNI… Happy to answer privately… Really don’t want to be quoted on the record… If you want to call me an idiot without my response, that’s fine…

A: No I want your response.

A; [stream continues] But I shouldn’t respond… I’ve promised people I won’t respond… We need to cool this down… It’s a really a very narrow issue: are there people confused about Froomkin’s role…

This is followed by the editor first going off the record and then refusing comment. Journalists should be the last people to do either.

: Now go to Ken Auletta’s New Yorker story about tsuris at the New York Times with some deft slipping of shivs between the shoulder blades of executive editors: Keller v. Raines v. Lelyveld. Most entertaining.

: Some are positioning l’affaire Froomkin as political: See Kos. Others are gamely trying to laugh it off as a turf war over a home page. See Aschenblog. Some see it as resistance to change: See Yelvington — “It’s time to change your people, or change your people.” I see it as that and as a war of journalistic worldviews about alleged objectivity vs. transparency.

But a wise editor I know said it better in an email: “The elbows are getting very very sharp right now.” And the reason is that the business is shrinking and the print guys and online guys — forced together in newsroom meetings and mergers — are like dogs growling and snapping over that last scrap of meat. When the going gets tough the tough get snarky.