The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

News Corp’s “The Daily” fails to find an audience. Surprised?

So how long do you think Rupert Murdoch will keep the Daily going?

According to Bloomberg, News Corp’s “The Daily” is getting about 120,000 readers a week. That’s nowhere close to the 500,000 readers the company said it needs to be profitable.

The iPad-only publication was a big experiment not just for News Corp but the entire industry that is keen to test the value of scarcity in online content. “We believe the Daily will be the model for how stories are told and consumed,” Murdoch said in February.

Just to put it in context, the following newspapers have circulations of 120,000: The Blade in Toledo, Ohio and the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York.

That’s not the kind of scale Murdoch is used to.

Filed under: General

WSJ Social: I still don’t get it.

WSJ Social: Exciting strategy but poorly executed on Facebook

The thought of the internet as Facebook is scary.

So it’s even scarier when a major news publication like the Wall Street Journal decides to open a store front on Facebook — without linking back to the wsj.com.

Treating Facebook as the internet is exactly what WSJ Social is doing. I’ve been trying this out since it launched over a week ago. I get the strategy: Be everywhere your audience is. Clever, because that’s rule #1 of all social strategies. Scary, because it means that the WSJ may have opened the door to the next stage of online news content: Only on Facebook.

This model however isn’t as unique as it sounds. Cable companies have widened their engagement of users from TVs to other platforms such as PCs and mobile devices.

But strategy aside, I don’t think WSJ is going to get far with this social app.

Part of the goal, it seems, is to test a new user engagement model for WSJ by getting users to see themselves as “editors” and to customize their concept of news to other people in WSJ Social. I’ve tried it; and I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do. So what if I’m hitting “Like?” Well, there is apparently a “game-ified” layer to this where curators with the highest following appear on a leaderboard. I may be missing the point here.

Filed under: Facebook, News, Newspapers, Social Media

Analytics and the modern digital newsroom

It’s never easy to have a conversation with news editors about the role of analytics in the modern newsroom.

If you were to send an online editor to a traditional newsroom and ask for a deck on a “content strategy” that governs what gets published, where and why, you’d end up with blank faces.

News judgement as we know it is changing rapidly. At the heart of it, the question of “what makes a good story” is constantly re-defined thanks to the use of analytics in online newsrooms.

In a recent survey by Reynolds Journalism Institute, 49 percent of editors polled said they make decisions on what to cover based partially on analytics reports. That means 51 percent of editors are still making decision based on traditional judgement.

There’s clearly room to grow. Newsbeat was launched just a month ago, providing powerful tools to help break down your web traffic.

Here are some other analytics tools for the modern newsroom:

  • Visual Revenue
  • Newstogram
  • JumpTime
  • Publishflow
  • Filed under: General

    Building a community around conversations with Disqus @mentions

    Disqus has taken a big step forward in building communities around conversations.

    In a big update to the popular commenting service, Disqus rolled out new feature called @mentions. It allows users to pull in other users into the conversation by using the @ symbol in front of names. This is something that’s almost second nature to Twitter users more recently, Facebook.

    This is a smart move for Disqus. @mentions are a great way to bring back traffic — an instant boost to page views.

    Disqus explained in its blog post, “Before @mentions, commenting threads were an island. There wasn’t a way to reach out to people who weren’t already participating.” That makes sense.

    The feature isn’t limited to just Disqus users — @mentions also supports pulling in users from Twitter. Brilliant.

    Filed under: General,

    Facebook’s new commenting system and why it matters

    Facebook’s new Comment Box plug-in for external blogs (currently under testing at TechCrunch) presents new opportunities for publishers, further disruption to social conversations, and plenty of questions surrounding privacy.

    The plug-in works with major blogging platforms and combines conversations on both ends of the social line — on the blog site as well as the user’s Facebook page.

    That’s a big deal. Here’s why:

    First, the use of a person’s Facebook identity in comments could finally be the key in bringing civility to conversations, cutting out spamming and trolling to a large degree. That’s an important step forward in building constructive conversations.

    At the same time, it further blurs the line between public and private discussions. If you were to add a comment on your favorite blog site, Facebook will publish (note: it’s an opt-out if you don’t want it) that same comment (and link back) to your Facebook profile page. Every comment it picks up through your friends at Facebook then syncs back with the main blog site. Depending on how you split private and public discussions, this could be a problem. Some of your friends may also not want to see their comments appear on a public forum that they’ve never actually visited.

    Second, it’s easier to get to the best comments — the most liked ones float to the top, keeping the crap out of your view. That increases the competition for visibility, which again, should introduce some civility to online blog conversations. Comments by your friends also take pole position — which may be good or bad depending on the circle you keep.

    Third — and this should keep publishers awake at night — what happens to the SEO? Since comments no longer reside on the blog, Facebook is now sitting on a rich pile of content that hasn’t yet been mined — and the search referrals are theirs to own.

    These are still early days for this plug-in but it reflects the strategic importance of conversations for online media companies. Ultimately, as firms race to the bottom of the barrel for commoditized content, the only things that matter are the community and the conversations it generates. That’s why conversations are the gold mine of Content 2.0. It’s not all about the stories anymore — it’s about the conversations it triggers.

    (Photo credit: practicalowl / Creative Commons)

    Filed under: Facebook, Social Media,

    Building AOL’s editorial production line (thank you Huffington Post)

    AOL’s chief Tim Armstrong may not seem so crazy after all. The acquisition of Huffington Post, announced today, is clearly aimed at beefing up the company’s content pool in the wake of Demand Media’s (surprisingly) strong IPO last month.

    To put it all in context, Demand Media is worth about $1.5 bn in market cap today — that’s $800 mil shy of AOL’s. Armstrong must have Demand on his threat radar.

    AOL is pushing heavily into building its low-cost editorial factory. Leaked business plans show just how its editors are thinking: Is this story SEO-winning for in-demand terms? How can we modify it to include more terms? In all, AOL is aiming for search referrals to bring in 40 percent of its overall traffic — the largest single contributor.

    So where does the HuffPo fit in all of this? For $315 mil, paid mostly in cash, AOL is getting more SEO friendly traffic from the popular blog site. By all counts, this is a smart deal. At 5x expected revenue, the HuffPo acquisition is almost cheap.

    In the end, this is negative for online journalism. The deal once again proves the massive shift in the content industry to a bulk, low-cost production line led by SEO referrals. As a business, this makes sense. But for consumers, this takes you further from the news as reporters are incentivized to deliver on in-demand story trends on a daily basis. Say goodbye to enterprise, investigative or niche reporting.

    Filed under: News, SEO

    Al Jazeera’s moment in the battle for Egypt and news

    Every network has its time. For CNN, it was the first Gulf War. Now, it’s Al Jazeera’s big moment in the spotlight as the Egyptian crisis continues to unfold. (You can watch its coverage live here.)

    The network’s coverage is top notch, bar none.

    In a time of massive budget cuts, U.S. networks like CNN haven’t been able to keep their foreign bureaus running. The crisis in Egypt exposes a chronic problem among U.S. networks — their inability to quickly move away from “cheap” news in times of global crisis. Spend five minutes on CNN and FOX and you’ll see what I mean. Anchors are constantly using adjectives like “extraordinary” to describe the images, while the same video is replayed repeatedly. And that’s exactly the advantage that Al Jazeera is exploiting. For them, it’s not about the anchors or reporters — it’s about the live images on the ground.

    The network is helping to create a “common struggle” across the Arab world, according to Marc Lynch, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University. “They did not cause these events, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera,” he told the New York Times.

    But it isn’t just about the minute-to-minute coverage. Al Jazeera has unprecedented distribution thanks to the Internet. If you haven’t already downloaded the iPhone/iPad app, do it. Content may be king, but distribution is definitely queen in a crisis.

    There’s clearly demand from North America, where the network is suffocated by cable companies who don’t want to be associated with the Arab channel. Mohamed Nanabhay, who runs the online operations for Al Jazeera English, noted on his Twitter feed that 55 percent of web traffic to the site is from the U.S. and Canada.

    John R. Stanton probably said it best on Twitter: “So is everyone going to FINALLY get off of Al-Jazeera’s back and recognize them as not only legit but pretty goddamn good?”

    Well said. Now back to watching the coverage live on AJE.

    Filed under: News, Television,

    Google puts content farms in its sights (good luck to Demand Media’s IPO)

    Demand Media’s expected IPO next week has run into a not so-unexpected problem — Google.

    The Internet search engine is working on weeding out what it calls webspam — the junk that appears in search results, often courtesy of highly operational content farms like Demand Media.

    Google is apparently concerned about a perception that the quality of its search results is worsening. The company’s problem with spam is also getting exploited by a small rival, Blekko, which promises better returns through user curation.

    Google acknowledges that websites are trying to cheat their way up to higher position and that “people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.”

    This spells trouble for Demand Media in its move toward an IPO. But none of this should be too surprising for investors. The company, in its preliminary prospectus, warned:

    “Google may from time to time change its existing, or establish new, methodologies and metrics for valuing the quality of Internet traffic and delivering cost-per-click advertisements. Any changes in these methodologies, metrics and advertising technology platforms could decrease the amount of revenue that we generate from online advertisements.”

    Content farms like AOL’s Seed and Yahoo’s Associated Content need to take a closer look at the business. It’s risky and it’s quickly evolving. Keep an eye on Quora. Why should anyone go to eHow when they can get better curated answers to their questions by a community that has a healthy dose of credibility?

    Filed under: SEO,

    Don’t correct tweets, delete them

    At the end of every major fast-breaking news events, media junkies gather — almost like clockwork — to rip apart news organizations that were too fast in firing off the “post” button on Twitter. It’s almost as if, event after event, we’re constantly surprised that with the speed of Twitter come inaccuracies.

    Craig Silverman, a freelance journo based in Montreal, runs a fascinating (and almost sad) blog on inaccuracies in media called Regret The Error. In a recent review of the coverage of the shooting of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the question of correcting tweets came up.

    Should a news organization delete a tweet that was inaccurate?

    Boston’s WBUR was apparently first on Twitter to report that Giffords had been killed — and they got the story wrong. The Congresswoman was shot, but she wasn’t killed.

    Instead of deleting the erroneous tweet, WBUR decided instead to issue a correction. In its defense, WBUR said:

    We have decided NOT to delete the erroneous tweet, because it serves as part of the narrative of this story. Facts can change fast when news is breaking, and that leads to errors. We need to own the error, not hide from it. But we also need to rectify the error and explain ourselves to people who trust us. Deleting the tweet would do more to harm trust than preserving it would do to harm truth.

    Well, the goal to preserve reporting as the “first draft of history” is an honorable one. It works well in print — but fails miserably in online tools like Twitter. It’s simple: leaving an erroneous tweet out there runs the risk of someone else re-tweeting it. That’s irresponsible. The goal is accuracy, not the burial of errors. So instead, what WBUR should have done was:

    1. Delete the inaccurate tweet;
    2. Post a new tweet explaining the correction and set the record straight

    Ultimately, for Twitter to continue serving journalists, it needs to create a way for users to issue corrections while maintaining a sequence of events. That way, as far as news coverage goes, you’ll only be able to see and re-tweet the most recent update.

    Isn’t that a better way to draft history?

    Filed under: News, Twitter

    The Golden Voice guy and the lesson of content scarcity on the Web

    YouTube's takedown notice

    When the Columbus Dispatch took a stand to defend its copyright of the video of a panhandler hosted on YouTube, it provided an important reflection of the state of the newspaper industry and a reminder about the impossible business of content scarcity on the Internet.

    On January 6th, the Dispatch filed a claim with YouTube to remove the viral video of Ted Williams, the homeless man with the “Golden Voice.” It alleged that an “unauthorized person” had posted the video on the popular video site, in violation of its copyright.

    The paper was obviously well within its rights to defend its content. The Ted Williams video exists on the paper’s website, but let’s face it — it wasn’t going to get the viral effect that made Ted Williams a household name among 13 million users on YouTube.

    The point is, Williams would not have been a story if it weren’t for YouTube. The homeless man wouldn’t have had the attention of any of the companies that have since offered him jobs.

    So why did the Dispatch act in such a matter?

    Sadly, the Dispatch was trying to do what most newspapers are doing in the age of the Internet: restricting access to original content. Does it work? No. Content scarcity is not a viable business model when it comes to Internet publishing. At best, it allows rivals to circumvent you by curating other commoditized content instead of yours. In its worst, it robs journalism of a great story.

    The Ted Williams story is indeed a triumph of online journalism through social media. Every great story deserves to be read, watched or heard. Scarcity doesn’t exist in great online journalism.

    So what could Dispatch have done?

  • Leave the video on YouTube and leverage the traffic that the video is attracting;
  • Shepherd the conversation — share ideas with the community on how to address homelessness. You now have the attention of millions. Use it for good (isn’t that the point of journalism?);
  • Provide links to similar stories or provide a follow-up story on the Dispatch website
  • Establish an easy way for the community to share similar stories on the Dispatch website

    In the end, the Dispatch — under pressure from its readers (and ironically, other people who have never heard of the newspaper) — opened its own official channel on YouTube. Here’s the Williams video, now under the appropriate copyright (sans the 13 million views and the thousands of comments that have now been lost). I hope the lesson hasn’t been lost on other newspapers.

    Filed under: Newspapers, , , , ,

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