Posts about newsinnovation

The press becomes the press-sphere

One problem I’ve had with much discussion about the future of news lately is that it’s too press-centric. It focuses on the press as if it were at the center of the world, as if it owned news, as if news depended on it, as if solving the press’ problems solves news. That’s not the ecosystem of news now. There’s a fundamentally new structure to media and there are many different ways to look at it. And until we realize that, I don’t think we’ll begin to create successful new models for news. So pardon my simplistic drawings, but here’s an attempt to begin to illustrate that new ecosystem of news and media.

We start, of course, with the way things were: news through the filter of the press to us with few other options. We all know this chart:


This is replaced today by a press-sphere in which any of many sources can, thanks to links, add up a story and to fulfilling the need or desire for news and information. The press may be involved and may create a news story. But we might have found that via links from our peers who tell us it’s news (“if the news is important, it will find me”). Either of those might have linked to source material from a company or government site — which now plays a press role in adding to the whole of a story. Witnesses can join in the process directly. Background might come via links to archives. Commentary from observers may add perspective. An accumulation of data may alert us to news or augment it. All of these elements add up to news.


When we put the public at the center of the universe — which is how these charts should be drawn and how the world should be seen, as each of us sees it — we see the choices we all call upon: the press still, yes, but also our peers, media that are not the press (e.g., Jon Stewart), search, links, original sources, companies, the government. It’s all information and we curate it and interact with it with the tools available. And, again, the press stands in a different relationship to the world around it.


So this yields a different view of the news story itself. The notion that news comes in and stories go out — text and photos come in and paper goes out — is an artifact of the means of production and distribution, of course. Now a story never begins and it never ends. But at some point in the life of a story, a journalist (working wherever) may see the idea and then can get all kinds of new input. But the story itself — in whatever medium — is merely a blip on the line, a stage in a process, for that process continues after publication.


When I was talking with the Guardian about their new newsroom, I saw two views of news in 3-D relief: In print, the process leads to a product. Online, the process is the product.

This has an impact on how a newsroom and the journalists in it see themselves and their relationship with the public, over time. It calls into question the organizing principle of newsrooms. It used to be that we were organized around sections — news, sports, business… — and job descriptions — reporter, editor, photographer, designer. Then along came online and we were organized around media — print, online.

But in this new ecology, I think newsrooms will need to be organized around topics or tags or stories because the notion of a section is as out of date as the Dewey Decimal System (hat tip to David Weinberger).

Stories and topics become molecules that attract atoms: reporters, editors, witnesses, archives, commenters, and so on, all adding different elements to a greater understanding. Who brings that together? It’s not always the reporter or editor anymore. It can just as easily be the reader(s) now.


Of course, these aren’t the only architectural changes. Last week, I joined a discussion with the faculty at CUNY about these shifts, which included these ideas:

* The separation of content from presentation on web pages means that design, navigation, brand, and medium can change and are not necessarily controlled by an editor’s design.

* Feeds also have an impact on — and can reduce the value of — packaging and prioritization (also known as editing).

* Live reports from witnesses also reduce the opportunity to package and edit.

* The ecology of links motivates us to do what we do best and link to the rest. It fosters collaboration. It changes the essential structure of a story (background or source material can be a link away).

* Links also turn our readers into our distributors.

* Links turn our readers into editors.

* Aggregation, curation, and peer links become our new newsstand.

* Search and SEO motivate us to create repositories of expertise (topic pages) and make news stories more permanent.

* Search reduces the power of the brand.

* We see ourselves not as owners of content or distribution but as members of networks.

* These networks can be about content, trust, interest, or advertising relationships or all of the above.

I could keep drawing bad charts all day to illustrate the new network, reverse syndication models, the audience as the network, and more. I’ll spare you. (But if you have any charts to show, please do send links.)

These are all fundamental shifts in how news and the world around it is constructed. So to keep talking about newspapers as if they were news is far too limiting in the discussion. It’s bigger now. It’s more complex. It moves over time. It’s more about process than product. It has no limit of sources and handlers and distributors and curators and perspectives. When we rethink this ecology of news, we’ll be in a better position to plan for what’s next.

CBS stations’ local ad network

It warms my cockles to see a local blog ad network start, especially from a company as big as CBS’ station group.

They just announced a new widget ad network in 13 of their local markets (the owned & operated stations with newsrooms). In a week and a half, they’ve put together 80 blogs in the network, many more to come. They are all local blogs around various content interests: news, politics, sports, real estate, entertainment. This is pretty much just an ad network rather than a curated ad-and-content network like Glam. CBS intends to send the blogs some traffic, but unlike Glam, it’s not aggregating and curating their content. They’re looking for decent blogs that are local and are updated regularly, but they’re not yet turning this into a contest where the best quality wins (that day will come, I hope). When I spoke with them, they did add that they’re delighted with the quality of the local blogs they’ve seen.

You can see an example of the ad unit here and here: a constant feed of content (video stills in most cases, text in others) over an ad unit. So far, they’ve sold AT&T, Liberty Mutual, and the Honda dealer group in Dallas. They will sell in both local and national ads; it’s too soon to know what that mix will be, but they anticipate about an even split.

This is a model I like and one I’ve been pushing with companies I know: You could look at this as an ad with content attached or as content with an ad attached. So the blogger gets an ad, revenue, a some small dollop of content, and an association with a major media brand (which some still value). The station gets to push its advertiser as well as its content and brand and gets an association with those cool bloggers and its gets new inventory and audience. The advertiser has a better idea of the environment because there’s content next to the ad and because the station picks the blogs. What’s not to love?

The CBS unit also carries the local station’s branding plus a link to a pitch to join the network. Here are examples of the units.

I spoke with Jonathan Leess, president and general manager of the CBS station digital group, and Aaron Radin, senior vp for their ad sales and biz dev. They understand that this is not just about driving traffic to CBS domains but about reaching audience they may not now serve in other places. That’s the attitude.

I had to pull numbers out of them like baby teeth. They’re telling the bloggers to expect an effective CPM of about 50 cents but they quickly acknowledge that they’re subsidizing and backfilling the network, which is brand new. That is, they’re not yet selling the high-value ads and they’re not selling out, so they are putting in lower-value advertising in some cases and throwing in a subsidy on top. So that’s the net-net bloggers can expect today. But that’s not the value they’re selling to advertisers. That, they said, is more like a $10 CPM (though all life is negotiable). Compare that with $8-20 CPMs on CBS domain banner ads and $16-25 on video inventory. If they can sell a CPM approaching a double digit for local blogs and sell through enough inventory, that could be healthy. In the end, I ask, what will the value of a network impression be relative to a CBS domain impression? Again, it’s too early to say, but Radin guesses one third to one half.

They hope to add 20 million incremental (that is, new) ad impressions per month per market, though they’re quick to add that their goal isn’t just ad impressions but also new audience. Amen. And note that they’re pushing not just web pages but also those high-value video views. Leess and Radin said they serve 20-25 million streams a month, about half of that from the stations’ sites and half from syndication to Yahoo.

By the way, Buzzmachine is not local so it won’t qualify. Drat. When will somebody start that media wonks’ network?

The last Lacy/Zuckerberg post

OK, that’s likely a lie. But I just got back to New York and belatedly watched the Aust360 video of Sarah Lacy after The Event. Once again, she’s emblematic of bigger problems in our craft: She refuses to hear the feedback she got. Worse, she doesn’t seek it out. This is one of those moment when I see a mirror — a mirror of my own past — and realize how blogging has changed me. Like her, back in the day, I hated getting letters from readers (probably because many were scrawled in crayon, covering sheets of paper with writing at 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees, and spotted with drool). But with blogs, I had to learn to deal with feedback, criticism, and correction and then I learned the benefit of seeking it out. We hear none of that from Lacy, only the belief that she knows her job and we don’t:

: LATER: Note that unlike his BW colleague, Jon Fine is asking his audience for advice and questions before his panel.

A challenge from the Times

In a comment under my post about restructuring the Times Company below, someone calling him or herself Timesman says that indeed Bill Keller of the Times does want to work collaboratively with his readers, the question is how:

But what, specifically, should journalists at the Times ask its users to do? Let’s hear some very concrete next steps. We’re listening.

OK, friends, let’s take up that challenge. I’ll start the bidding. Please add your ideas of how the Times and its public can work together to perform concrete acts of journalism. (And spare us the kneejerk Times-bashing; those sentiments are stipulated.) Some suggestions:

* Put large amounts of data or documents online and ask the public to help find the stories there. The Dallas Morning News did this with the just-released JFK documents. The Ft. Myers News Press did it with a FOIA on a botched hurricane-relief effort. The Sunlight Foundation has us exposing earmarks in spending bills. Someone, I can’t recall who, did it with Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congress. Use your access to get such data and then ask us to help dig into it because we know what’s going on or simply because you want the help. I’d start with Congress and get help from Sunlight and bloggers to strategize that.

* Ask the public to help gather data points around a story. The quickly classical example of this was Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show asking listeners to find out the prices of milk, lettuce, and beer to find out who is being gouged where (which then enables the journalists to ask why — put their price maps against maps of income and race in New York and stories emerge). This should work particularly well on a local level: Ask people to tell you the price they pay for drugs and doctors and map that. Ask them to tell you just how late or dirty their trains are. And on and on. If you get enough data, you can pay attention to the center of the bell curve; the outliers are either mistakes are damned good stories.

* Get the public to help file no end of FOIAs to birddog government. Create a FOIA repository where you can help train them how to do it and record the responses (that bit’s a great idea from Tom Loosemore in the UK) and collect what’s learned.

* One of the great ideas that came out of my entrepreneurial journalism class — inspired by an idea from an intern I worked with at Burda last summer — is to have the public help assign reporters. Now that could get unwieldy quickly. But my CUNY student, Danny Massey, came up with a very smart structure for capturing what the public wants to know so news organizations can allocate at least some of their resource accordingly. I’ll introduce you.

* Establish communities of experts to help on stories, their reporting and checking and even their assignment. This could take the form of Jay Rosen’s beat-blogging idea or of the Ft. Myers panel of experts. Of course, every reporter has such panels in their Rolodexes. But Ft. Myers has learned that people want to be of service before the reporter happens to call. The Times’ crowd is very wise and filled with experts and so why not use the networking and linking power of the internet to help harness that to help with reporting? Imagine a social network around expertise.

* Hand out camera and recorders and ask citizens to capture meetings, lectures, events of all sorts and turn those into podcasts. Most of the time most of them will not get much audience, but the resource that went into each one is minor and the opportunity to spread a wider blanket of coverage on a community is great.

* Get the advertising side involved in supporting curated, quality blog networks: New York, political, business, and so on. The Washington Post has networks for travel and other topics, the Guardian for environment, Reuters for financial blogs. The Times could support the very best of these blogs and benefit from having a wider net of content and reporting at a low cost and risk. And this is the part they’ll like: They can set the definitions of quality. The Times also has an in-house advantage here because knows how to manage and pay large, distributed networks of contributors based on ad and traffic performance.

These ideas work for most any news organization. As I’ll point out in a post I’m writing now: collaboration to create real value is the next generation of interactivity.

To get started, I’d hire a collaboration editor charged with getting such projects going all around the newsroom. But I’d make sure that job gets phased out as journalists collaborate on their own self-interested initiative.

So what other ideas do you have for how the Times — or any news organization — could work together to create journalism?

Murdoch’s incubator(s)

I’m impressed that Myspace’s Chris Dewolfe has started an incubator inside News Corp.

Murdoch and MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe plan to be closely involved in the venture, which News Corp. has seeded with $15 million to hire roughly 40 employees, mostly software developers, say people with knowledge of the plans. The venture is being launched nearly a half-year after archrival Facebook announced a $10 million fund to invest in software companies that build applications for its social network. . . .

DeWolfe & Co. won’t get specific about what projects they’re incubating with SlingShot but say they’ll focus mostly on social networking, including software designed to work with Facebook’s site.

I only wish that they also started an incubator for news. How about an East Coast SlingShot at the Wall Street Journal?