We need to have a serious talk about Ferguson. But first we need to ignore the media.
The Economist writes about media’s analogue holdouts and how they may be missing out on some awesome digital benefits:
They have some good reasons. Online advertising is worth much less than television or print advertising. It is hard to persuade people to pay much (if anything) for digital content. Technology firms such as Amazon and Apple can often set retail prices. Digital products can be less beautiful than physical ones.
But such gripes are widespread in the media industry. They must be set against the fact that digital distribution is a low-cost way of reaching huge audiences. What is more, refusing to go online is a sure way to alienate many potential customers. So why do the analogue holdouts hold out?
It comes down to different strokes for different folks.
While an online presence may be “low-cost” in the overall scheme of things, cheaper than print, cheaper than smoke signals, etc, it still is a cost. You have to pay for the site and someone to maintain it, not just posting new content but policing any interactive areas. When ad revenue from websites is so much less than print, a firm has to decide if it can at the very least pay for itself but that comes after an initial investment that may not be worth the effort.
Beyond that, if you’re providing a product that is dependent upon sales in order to remain in operation, why are you doing to give it away online? This mainly applies to specialty products, niche targeted items that don’t provide services easily found elsewhere. Washington Post can’t afford to fall behind New York Times online in regards to its national coverage, but a women’s weekly magazine with a solid subscriber base can keep itself merely focused on print as long as it provides quality content unavailable elsewhere. Giving it away online in the hopes that someone will then decide to subscribe to the print (as the article suggests) is a frightening prospect when most companies would fear losing a number of already existing subscriptions to their now free online service.
Beyond news, the article suggests the Beatles could really benefit from a digital catalog and that whoever convinces them to do it will make a boatload of money. While true, the Beatles aren’t hurting for money or sales of the physical copies of their music. Here you’re talking about a brand that is so hugely popular that it has no need to go digital in order to reach masses it might not otherwise. Every music store carries the Beatles catalog and any number of “best of” compilations to saturate the market. If someone wakes up at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat because they just HAVE to hear Come Together or they’ll never sleep again, Walmart is right around the corner with three different CDs to choose from.
The internet is hardly one size fits all and not all people absolutely have to be in a rush to get online and digitize their content that they’d otherwise charge for. There’s a reason newspapers are flipping out over how to make money. In their rush to be ahead of the digital curve they completely removed their at one time profit base and helped breed a society now used to getting the news for free. To suggest others need to rush to do the same is drinking the digital Kool Aid without first having it pass the sniff test.
A post about a Washington Post column that mentions Lady Gaga but not Justin Beiber found via Kottke.org
Interesting column from Gene Weingarten about how the new newsroom is different than the old and, in particular, the impact it has on headlines:
The only really creative opportunity copy editors had was writing headlines, and they took it seriously. This gave the American press some brilliant and memorable moments, including this one, when the Senate failed to convict President Clinton: CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR; and this one, when a meteor missed Earth: KISS YOUR ASTEROID GOODBYE. There were also memorably wonderful flops, like the famous one on a food story about home canning: YOU CAN PUT PICKLES UP YOURSELF.
Newspapers still have headlines, of course, but they don’t seem to strive for greatness or to risk flopping anymore, because editors know that when the stories arrive on the Web, even the best headlines will be changed to something dull but utilitarian. That’s because, on the Web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for “search engine optimization,” meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted “eyeball.” Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers.
Headlines now have to not only boost SEO but summarize the article well enough to capture the reader. Creative titles that don’t practically tell the whole story are passed over. For some this is a challenge to get even more creative with headlines (see Skywalkers In Korea Cross Han Solo), but 9 times out of 10 it just leads to laziness. (via Kottke)
Wesley Donehue over at TechRepublican wonders what if newspapers explored the Hulu advertising model?
Let’s look at South Carolina as an example. The State’s John O’Connor and Gina Smith pumped out “must read” material for the nation during the Mark Sanford scandal. Unfortunately the only money they got from the increased readership was a hopeful increased click-through rate on the banner ads that polluted the page.
What if those banner ads weren’t there? What if, instead, a 30 second commercial popped up and you couldn’t move on to the story until you sat through the video? Sure, it’s a little annoying, just like on Hulu. But people will sit through 30 seconds of a commercial to get to solid content
Some news sites already do this, a splash coming up showing an advertisement with a small “click here to go to the article” link in the corner. It’d be interesting to see how that has impacted ad revenue compared to readership rates and whether this model works. But to date most of these ads have been standard flash advertisements and the opt through link at the top has made them not so mandatory.
The problem with forcing a 30 second or even 15 second commitment from a reader is a difference in how the medium is consumed. We are already used to commercials when watching television or video so three 30 second ads during a 30 minute Hulu broadcast doesn’t bother us.. Websites based on text content fall into a newspaper style of advertising in that it’s a matter of placement around the content, not interrupting the flow of it with something on a completely different level of interaction.
Could this use a change? Sure. But text is usually skimmed more than read andarticles of 1200 words may only keep eyes on the site for an average of around 75 seconds. Tacking a 15 second hurdle on top of something before they’ve committed to it risks losing that reader. Interrupting their skimming after a few paragraphs with the same style of ad risks the same.
Today’s Richmond Times Dispatch front page screams about how that evil devil music is leading kids to kill people left and right. Or, rather, how one kid may have been influenced by violent rap lyrics to murder four individuals:
Police: Lyrics may have played role in Farmville slayings
Investigators are trying to determine whether a suspect’s fascination with violent rap lyrics fueled the killings of four people found dead Friday in a Longwood University professor’s home.
Richard Samuel Alden McCroskey III (which is a pretty hoity name, if you ask me) was arrested at Richmond International Airport in connection with the killings. McCroskey was a big fan and singer/rapper or Horrorcore, which is different from regular rap in that it’s about doing awful things like killing people. Wait…
Anyways, the gem in the article is this:
One song attributed to McCroskey on one of his MySpace pages discusses committing murder in a rage, trying to get rid of the remains and driving a stolen vehicle.
So here’s what the RTD wants you to think.
McCroskey’s fascination with music, rap music in particular, horrorcore rap music specifically, may have led this guy to kill four people. Just look at the lyrics.
THAT HE WROTE!
Anyone else see a problem with that “logic”?
It’s like saying bad literature may have led Charles Manson to be crazy. JUST LOOK AT HIS OWN ATTEMPTS AT LITERATURE!
It’s an attempt at sensationalizing the story in a matter that appeals to base emotions.
Books lead to violence.
Movies lead to violence.
Video games lead to violence.
Music leads to sex, drugs, and more violence. It’s like a hat trick for the Devil!
Really messed up crazy kid’s violent writings showed a mind that could comprehend doing horrific acts.
Now, this is certainly a slipperly slope because it’s hard to say the lyrics showed a troubled youth who needed an intervention. I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly sane folks who are into horrorcore rap, so saying the lyrics are a sign of madness and anyone involved needs help is a bit of a leap.
Over the next few days and weeks I’m sure we’ll find out more about McCrosky and a lot more red flags will pop up aside from his facination with writing violent lyrics.
But, really, Richmond Times Dispatch? Really?
No wonder no one buys your rag.
Geoff Livingston over at The Buzz Bin makes a great analogy – Newspapers Are Like Department Stores:
For department stores, many chains found their death in a trojan horse — the mall. With the rise of the mall, department stores were asked to anchor these megaplexes. But inside the smaller stores were more nimble, better competitors who specialized in deeper lines of products. Electronics, women’s shoes, hardware, whatever it was, from big box to pretzels chains took shoppers away from many department stores.
Ironically, like the mall, the Internet was supposed to be the future of newspapers. But for some reason the 90s passed and the opportunity was never realized. Perhaps that crack known as print advertising was just too good to give up. Or maybe, change was really that hard.
And he’s right. Department stores for decades was the jack of all trades families turned to for one-stop-shopping. But then malls came along, inviting specialist stores who then competed within feet of one another for foot traffic and business. Department stores couldn’t compete – sure J.C. Penney’s has a shoe department, but it’s no Foot Locker when it comes to selection, brands and sometimes price (well, maybe not price, but still).
Specialization and one-stop-shopping met at the mall.
For over ten years now that’s been happening with the news on the internet: newspapers have come to anchor media coverage online but other operations have set up that specialize and do some things better than those aiming to do all things. Sure the New York Times has a sports section, but ESPN is just a dot-com away.
So it’s adapt or die. But how to do that?
This changes the dynamic of editorial decisions. Instead of saying, “we should have that” (and replicating what is already out there) you say, “what do we do best?” That is, “what is our unique value?” It means that when you sit down to see a story that others have worked on, you should ask, “can we do it better?” If not, then link. And devote your time to what you can do better.
Newsweek is about to begin a major change in its identity, with a new design, a much smaller and, it hopes, more affluent readership, and some shifts in content. The venerable newsweekly’s ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all, executives say.
“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”
If you can’t make it your own, focus on what you can make your own and hat tip others for the rest of it.
For some that may not be enough. Sarah Lacy has advice at TechCrunch that’s a bit more aggressive but sounds like a perfect business model for succeeding online and off:
There’s an obvious option for these magazines, and I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about it: Ruthlessly collapse the print and online staffs, run everything online as soon as they write it, except one or two cover-length, long-form glossy pieces. Those will anchor the print issue, rounded out by the best stories from online. Then cut the money spent on trying to court new subscribers, shifting the entire marketing budget to promote the Web or real-life conferences and branded events. You could even use reader comments to flesh the online pieces out more for the print edition, driving more engagement in both the print and online versions. Voila! One publication, not two pretending to be one. And guess what? One publication is a hell of a lot cheaper, even if it’s printed on dead trees.
Give them something online many times a day, save the meat for the print and utilize your audience for filler when the magazine/paper comes out. Now a reader can participate and have a vested interest in the success and invest in the media accordingly.
Not only does this allow media to remain relevant but also supports newspapers and magazines doing what they can do better than most any other blogger out there: WRITE ACTUAL ARTICLES. Real meat, investigative pieces that take up 5-10 pages and really involves some journalism the reporting that they are better trained, equipped and financed to do. Get a handful of kids fresh outta college to do your online content for $25-30k a year a starting, pay a couple veterans the bigger bucks to deliver the meat, groom the kids to eventually be able to do the same, and suddenly you have yourself a working paper on the relatively cheap.
This isn’t the way newspapers have worked, nor is it how they’re adapting. Instead they’re cutting the bigger bucks veterans, stocking up on prospects on the cheap, and leaving them with no one to learn the real ins and outs of journalism from. At some point its unsustainable, the kids don’t know how to provide any real meat and the hemorrhaging of money continues without anyone with the know how to stick their thumb in the dike.
Papers are going to keep failing. Even if some make the harsh adjustments, it may be too little too late. Just as many department store chains are now long and gone, so will many papers. Others will survive, linger on as a shell of their former selves, or maybe convert and become something different, something better.
David Simon, creator of The Wire, gets it wrong:
Simon told the Senate Commerce Committee today bloggers don’t go to city council meetings, or know what the hell is going on if they do — a clichéd, out of touch refrain common among newspapermen who can’t be bothered to do any reporting on the assertion. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from a Newark Star-Ledger columnist to this effect:
Don’t expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings… a lot of bloggers will be found gasping for breath under piles of pure ennui. There is nothing more tedious than a public meeting.
I found this argument odd, because as a newspaper reporter who spent a few years covering a town much like Baltimore — Oakland, California — I often found that bloggers were the only other writers in the room at certain city council committee meetings and at certain community events. They tended to be the sort of persistently-involved residents newspapermen often refer to as “gadflies” — deeply, obsessively concerned about issues large and infinitesimal in the communities where they lived.
The whole Gawker piece by Ryan Tate is good and has some fine examples of citizen journalism.
Journalism can’t afford repetition and production anymore.
Every minute of a journalist’s time will need to go to adding unique value to the news ecosystem: reporting, curating, organizing. This efficiency is necessitated by the reduction of resources. But it is also a product of the link and search economy: The only way to stand out is to add unique value and quality. My advice in the past has been: If you can’t imagine why someone would link to what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And: Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link economy is ruthless in judging value.
The question every journalist must ask is: Am I adding value?
It’s a hard thing for a journalist or a media outlet to face. In this age of infotainment presentation has become everything while the actual meat of the story takes a backstage for the sake of flash and bang and ratings. But if you’re not adding anything of merit to the conversation it won’t spread, it won’t go very far and it’s hardly news.
This comes back to the continuing argument I make about newspapers as they continue to hemmorage subscriptions: specialization is key. Do what you do well, leave the rest to the experts. If you are able to cover something better than everyone else, if you’re really able to add value to the conversation, people will pay and reward you for it.
As Jarvis points out:
Bloggers have had to learn that, too. Just linking to and commenting on others’ reporting won’t get you much attention. Every blogger who does original reporting and tells the world something it doesn’t know but wants to know learns that this is how to get links and audience. Arianna Huffington told Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in London months ago that she was hiring reporters because their stories get more traffic; it’s enlightened economic self-interest. This is a lesson we teach our journalism students at CUNY, when we have them add reporting to the conversations that are going on online.
Whether you’re a blogger or a new form of news organization, you’re going to have to ask with every move whether it will add value to the news ecosystem. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t do it.
Metablogging (feeding links left and right) will only get you so far. If you can bring something to the table, a take, some information, something that adds to the story, you’re in. If you’re just passing folks along you’re nothing but a tollbooth on the way to something worthwhile.
Also see Jarvis’s “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.“
Checking out NRO articles this morning I found an interesting disclaimer at the top of the article Planned Parenthood Matters:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello at email@example.com.
The article is an interesting read but I kept coming back to this disclaimer and the inherent threat of who knows what should I decide to quote any part of this article without first reaching out to United Media. Admittedly it’s not hard to ask for permission, just e-mail and see what happens. And for all I know Ms. Puello will say sure and just remind me of what I’m about to remind everyone else of. But that step isn’t needed, the permission to excerpt because of the glorious rules of Fair Use. How does that apply here? Comment and criticism:
If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work–for instance, writing a book review — fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:
- quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
- summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
- copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
- copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.
The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases.
You don’t need permission to excerpt if you’re trying to provide context for your argument. Just don’t cut and paste the entire article and give credit where it’s due. Not only is this fair use but it’s Citation 101 – selectively quote your sources, cite your sources, don’t steal anything that’s not yours.
There are plenty of questions as to what constitutes fair use – whether there are limits to the number of characters or words one can reproduce before they are outright thieving. This is especially relevant on a large scale given AP’s threat last week to take “all actions necessary” against content piracy.
On a local scale, though, there is a micro-battle brewing about fair use working the other way around. Last week, Media General’s Richmond.com rebranded, tore down it’s old looks, threw up it’s new Richmond MySpace-esque site*, and said that part of its content would be aggregated from local blogs. So Richmond.com, as part of this new, hip, social media thing was going to be providing content not only generated by users and a paid staff but by bloggers who aren’t necessarily opting into RDC. And making money off of it. Which leads to the question:
The response is a little glib, but that they responded at all is to be commended.
A Twitter debate followed among some bloggers where fair use was brought up as well as folks either saying they really didn’t mind or they particularly minded because it infringed on their content rights.
One of the biggest arguments with the Richmond.com model is that there isn’t enough done to show where the meat is coming from. It’s a matter of attribution and affiliation and that also had a flare up on a larger scale last week when AllThingsD, a site owned by Dow Jones, posted a link to Joshua Schachter’sarticle about URL shorteners. Josh’s response was short and to the point:
He wasn’t impressed.
Andy Baio gets to the real heart of the matter when he says “the presentation makes it very hard to distinguish between original contributions“. And that’s the key – properly attributing the work not just in name but in looks as to distinguish what is being borrowed from what is truly original content. If you start mixing the two together, you start confusing the audience, whether purposefully and maliciously or merely out of laziness.
The other problem with Richmond.com is they’re unapologetic about it. “For aggregated content, we share by directing traffic to your site and ads.“ That is assuming that the site RDC is redirecting to has advertising or a structure to take advantage of any traffic.
That leads to the argument of the difference between professional media and independent media.
It is one thing for blogs to use mainstream media for meat and to feed readers to an outlet that is built and structured around a for-profit model that is designed to take advantage of any traffic that comes their way. They are ready to make the sale, push an advertisement, any number of avenues for revenue.
When mainstream media outlets do the reverse, using the content of blogs for meat, if they properly link and attribute (which is rare, even on media websites), they are feeding readers to a site that is not set up to take advantage of the traffic and thereby help the original author. There is no structure in place to take advantage of such a referral for personal or financial gain.
Both ways the mainstream media wins.
RDC tries to win many times over. When linking to community blogs they don’t make it easy to actually GET to the community blogs. You know, actually direct traffic to their sites and ads.
Visit RDC’s News & Views. Just this once. Scroll down past the advertisements and get to the actual list of News & Views. Pick any one of those articles. Click on it. Guess what? You’re not done yet! No, you now have another page of RDC ads to scroll through, the title, the first few words, THEN there’s a link you get to click on to finally get to the community blog that provided this meat.
Whatever they can do to keep you on their site is good for them. The appearance of meat, of community news and involvement furthers this business model.
This issue is only going to grow as more and more newspapers switch to online models to save their failing business plans. They’re going to seek “community content” which usually equals “free content” and laugh all the way to the bank while the content providers are left working for someone and seeing no reward for their efforts.
Attribution is key. Affiliation is key. There has got to be something to thoroughly distinguish original content from aggregated content and not only that but reward accordingly. If Richmond.com has three restaurant reviews written in house by paid staff but then links to ten written on EatingRichmond.com, well, who does that serve? RDC, who can charge higher ad rates, show greater traffic and utilize other people’s content to inflate their own size? Or EatingRichmond.com, which is run part time by a handful of people, is a blog that has no marketing team or structure to sell advertising and can at best rely upon Google Ads that pays pennies on the click?
This is not to say that most folks blog for money. I certainly don’t. There are very few that truly profit off of blogging.
The point is, not only do I not blog to make myself money, I certainly don’t blog to make anyone else money.
Other posts worth reading on the subject are Anil Dash’s “Fair Use For Fair People” and Jason Kottke’s “Extreme Borrowing In The Blogosphere”
*There is a whole blog post waiting to be written about the marketing thoughts behind destroying one already established brand in the effort to create a hip, “new” brand that merely provides yet another social network to an audience that has had plenty of social networks to choose from for five years now but one that also directly competes with community created and driven website likeRVANews, community blogs like CHPN and others, but that’s for another day.
Charlie Gibson doesn’t get it either, really, and Mark Biggs calls him out on it:
Gibson began with a somber rehash of newspapers cutting jobs and going out of business. “The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is gone — gone,” he said with dramatic effect.
After blaming young people for getting their news online for free, he went on to blame Google (and his “good friend Eric Schmidt”) and even threw citizen journalists under the bus at one point.
Fortunately, during the Q&A, a couple of students resisted the star-struck approach of other questioners and asked him to account for such statements. One even asked Gibson to respond to Clay Shirky’s suggestion that we don’t need newspapers, we just need journalism. Gibson replied that Shirky is “full of crap” and that we are a “long way away” from any web site being able to provide the complete package of news and information in the form of a financially sustainable business like newspapers of the past 30 years.
Gibson is looking for an exact replica of the New York Times online that generates the same revenue as the print product did 15 years ago. He wants the complete package on one web site, apparently only able to recognize greatness by largesse. What if that same quality journalism found on different sections of the Times web site today were actually separate web sites that were each profitable in their own right? How is that less important, effective or trustworthy than one organization that offers all of them?
I see a future where foreign reporting, local news, political coverage, business news, sports, arts coverage and more will thrive on separate sites, possibly under separate ownership. And this won’t be a problem for the user since aggregation makes it easy to get this as one package.
The other issue is Gibson doesn’t lay the blame where it belongs.
When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes web only they readily admit that any indepth reporting, any long exposes and real journalism will no longer happen at the SPI. They’re all going to become bloggers.
But why? It’s not because that’s what people want and will pay for on the web. Hell, if that was the case J’s Notes would be making me tons of monies.
No, newspapers and other media, if you’re going to make money you have got to offer a product worth paying for and advertising on. You guys can do the indepth reporting bloggers generally can not because you have the training and the resources. Don’t imitate us, WE’RE NOT MAKING ANY MONEY!
Specialize, find what you do well and knock it out of the park. Politico can make it work profitably, so can the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and even Charlie Gibson.
Should anyone care if news reporting dies out?
That’s a great question. Not everyone is obsessed by the state legislature. However, on a day-to-day basis, it has more impact on the lives of Virginians than any other political body. We write the criminal laws, the health laws, the divorce laws. We shape and fund public education. We plan and build highways.
While press coverage dwindles in Richmond, the content inevitably “dumbs down.”
One could argue that the dumbing down came first.
What the Post and other media outlets seem to be trying to do is set the tone. You NEED these reporters, you NEED this coverage, so you NEED to either subscribe to us or bail us out.
The problem is, these reporters and this coverage isn’t cutting it these days. The current structure of newspapers is a failed business model that has failed to adapt over the last ten years as the Internet has exploded into their turf. Newspapers need to prove themselves to the public if they can even hope to woo back the dollars they need to survive. That involves a reevaluation of the way they do business, whether it’s changing how they measure the quality of their product (based on actual quality of content as opposed to sales) or whether it’s changing direction.
Newsweek is trying this. In a NYTimes article, Newsweek editor Jon Meachum noted:
“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”
Newsweek loses money, and the consensus within its parent, the Washington Post Company, and among industry analysts, is that it has to try something big. The magazine is betting that the answer lies in changing both itself and its audience, and getting the audience to pay more.
Newsweek is hoping that it’s more opinionated and stylized take will create a fresh product that people may be willing to pay more. While this isn’t entirely new – new for weeklies, old for journals like Foreign Affairs and such – it’s different enough that it might work.
But it’s change, it’s adaptation, and it’s an attempt to do something other than business as usual given that business has failed.
Specialization may be the key. In a time when print is supposedly dying, Politcohas not only expanded its news operations but increased it’s print circulation from 27,000 to 32,000. What Politico brings to the table isn’t just fresh ideas and content but a targeted market that appreciates the quality of their product. Politico knows what it does well – inside the beltway political coverage – and capitalizes on it, not just in circulation but in advertising revenue as well. It’s easier to woo a potential advertiser when you can easily help them target a specific market.
Newspapers on the other hand casts a wide net but generates no real bang in any one market enough to really capitalize. The jack-of-all-trades mentality of newspapers of old isn’t working. A newspaper is not an expert at all things and does not have the staff to pretend to be so. The newspaper can no longer be a Swiss Army Knife of news in an era of specialized websites delivering better information from experts in a more timely manner.
Newspapers need to find their niche, their market, what they do well, and tweak accordingly. Is sure isn’t going to be easy and it might not make as much money as papers once did, but evolution need to happen.
If newspapers don’t adapt, they’re going to die and they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.