The Now/ledge

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

Finding value in the content ecosystem

I hate the c-word.

Content. It refers to this huge murky cloud of online articles, video, photos, comments, Tweets, status updates, etc. And it’s a commodity without a price tag.

Despite its inherent supply and demand, it’s hard to identify a price or any proper way to value “content.”

In a recent study titled “How News Happens,” the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that of all the outlets that produced news in Baltimore, almost all of them simply repackaged or repeated previously published information.

Of the media that actually created new “news,” 95 percent of them came from traditional media — most of them newspapers.

The report triggered a number of questions, in particular: Is the real value of content found in original reporting — the stuff you mainly find in newspapers?

Let’s try a broader approach. There are three systems to consider, and each has a unique value attached to it:

1. Traditional “gumshoe” reporting: This is the bread-and-butter reporting that you find in newspapers and wire services. It’s the kind of stuff you learn in journalism school — how to source and produce your own original stories.

2. Social news reporting: Value is created in the shepherding of articles and links. Here, personal brands matter most as value is created in the person who forwards, links or seeds the dialogue in the community.

3. Commentary: This is the pinnacle of the personal brand. Commentators such as op-ed writers in the newspaper model add spit-and-polish to the newsflow by “value-adding” an expert view to original reporting.

Where are you creating value in the reporting that you do?

(Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center. Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, USN, Senior UNC Delegate, (left) with Rear Admiral R.E. Libby, USN, UNC Delegate, (center) examine a Chinese typewriter at the UNC Advance Camp)

Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, Social Media,

Newsday gets only 35 subscribers to its news service

Here’s a reality check for media companies thinking about putting up a pay-wall (even though you’ve ignored surveys telling you exactly this) — there’s no guarantee you’ll find the subscriber numbers you’re looking for.

Proof: Newsday.

After three months of putting up its pay-wall, only 35 (yes, thirty-five) people have subscribed to the news service, which costs $5 a week or $260 a year.

In that time, it’s not surprising that the company would have taken a hit on its traffic numbers, further depressing its ad revenue.

Newsday is especially important for the industry since it was one of the first non-business dailies to establish a subscription-based system online.

Plenty of lessons here for the New York Times. But really, are you surprised?

Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing

The rise of the news shepherd

I made the shift to online journalism in May 2009. While I’ve made many crossovers in my 15 years in the industry (radio-TV, TV-newswires), this move to the online world marked the biggest change in both editorial mindset and daily workflow.

Many of my former colleagues have been asking me about the differences and how that’s changed my thinking about journalism. So let me start by pointing out what I think represents the biggest opportunity and challenge for journalism: the rise of the news shepherd.

I’m not suggesting for a moment here that the audience is a single, monolithic unit (it’s often fragmented). The shepherd analogy here represents the role of the journalist. He or she is no longer the anonymous “neutral” witness of history. In the online world, the journalist often rides on his personal brand, delivering and seeding news and conversations.

In the next two years, I’m convinced that job descriptions for journalists will include requirements such as:

– strong personal brand online, with at least 400 followers on Twitter, 500 friends on Facebook, 300 connections on LinkedIn
– ability to seed conversations and cultivate dialogue in online communities
– a strong eye for stories that can be further developed into strong conversations online
– ability to quickly and effectively moderate conversations

In short, journalists will be hired not only for their access to news makers and other sources, but also for their ability to rally and drive conversations in online communities.

This has been one of the biggest lessons for me in the last few months at Yahoo!, where I’ve been working with producers and community managers to seed and drive conversations. And I’m convinced this will be the biggest opportunity for online journalism that reaches beyond the latest technological fads. New platforms will wow and amaze, but ultimately, it still comes down to the audience and what you do for them.

One of the best things about “working” the community is that it will help deliver the context to stories that online journalism so badly needs. At Yahoo!, our Answers product is one of the best ways for us to do that — provide context. News is more than just what’s happening now; you need the community to develop context (that’s a subject for another blog post!).

There are of course two big challenges to this shift.

First, many newsrooms will resist the rise of “personal brand” journalism in which reporters are building their own personal communities. Reality check — TV stations have been using anchors as “personal brands” for years.

Second, newsroom managers will have to recognize that moderating and cultivating a community is a full-time job. Allocate your resources accordingly. Hire top notch social media editors to drive your strategy and empower them as your frontline consumer-facing messengers.

How many shepherds do you have in your news team?

[Photo: Russell Lee, Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana, 1942]

Filed under: Social Media, , ,

Tweetdeck goes primetime at Sky News

Sky News is installing Tweetdeck on all computers, marking a significant shift in the thinking at live TV newsrooms.

This is a clear endorsement of the role of Twitter in the ‘now’ revolution as a tool to track and gather news and other information. TV newsrooms have been slow in making that shift, so kudos to Sky News for leading that change.

Sky has always been an early adopter, having appointed Ruth Barnett as social media or “Twitter correspondent” as early as March 2009. That move put Twitter in the center of the company’s online breaking news strategy. The Sky News account detects when new stories are getting posted and distributes them across Twitter. Sky also recently started the @skynewsbreak account, which broadcasts breaking stories first on Twitter before they appear on the company’s own website. Sacred cows are getting slaughtered in 140 characters.

And there’s more coming. Facebook Connect is apparently on the roadmap ahead of this year’s general election. The site will also be using more liveblogging to stir conversations.

What’s your newsroom doing with Twitter?

Filed under: Publishing, Social Media, , ,

Did the pursuit of the ‘now’ kill storytelling?

Michael Kinsley has a funny column in the current edition of The Atlantic. In it, he argues that people are abandoning newspapers for the Internet not because of technology, but the simple fact that print articles are too long.

The software industry has a concept known as “legacy code,” meaning old stuff that is left in software programs, even after they are revised and updated, so that they will still work with older operating systems. The equivalent exists in newspaper stories, which are written to accommodate readers who have just emerged from a coma or a coal mine. Who needs to be told that reforming health care (three words) involves “a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system” (nine words)?

I don’t agree. Well, not completely at least.

It comes down to this: People are busier. They (We) have more competing activities and face numerous distractions even while sitting at our workspaces. Pings, tweets, new emails, text messages. Arrgh.

It’s not about the length of the article — it’s about the storytelling. Concision has never mattered more. And in this age, if you can’t get your point across before the next tweet comes in, you’ve lost the plot.

In effect, our pursuit of the “now” has killed storytelling. Who cares if a reporter is giving enough “color” to the piece? News is now faster than ever. And in shorter sentences. And connects faster. That’s compelling.

Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, Social Media

Dow Jones restructures, joins consumer and enterprise units

Dow Jones & Co. is merging two of its biggest business units in one of its most aggressive moves yet to integrate the company under the leadership of News Corp.

The consumer media group, which produces frontline products like the Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch and Barron’s, will be merged with the enterprise media group. The latter carries the namesake newswire service as well as Factiva.

This is the biggest restructuring at Dow Jones since the News Corp takeover in 2007. Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton says this change wasn’t driven by a need or desire to reduce costs but to help serve customers “irrespective of platform or distribution channel.”

This is an important acknowledgement of the shift in content consumption — ultimately, the consumer doesn’t care where the news comes from, as long as it’s credible and accurate. The question then: Does Dow Jones still need as many brands as it has in its product showcase?

Filed under: General, Newspapers, Publishing, ,

Do newspapers have to die for news to survive?

What better way to start sizing up the new year.

Do newspapers have to die for news to survive? In a recent article in The Economist, the magazine offered a reminder that the industry is still evolving, as it has been for more than 150 years.

Case in point: the arrival of the electric telegraph in May 1845. Yes, pre-Twitter, news existed.

The telegraph was an immediate threat to newspapers, whose survival hinged on the speed of fast boats, carrier pigeons and express trains. The arrival of the telegraph was thus greeted with the same worries that we have in 2010 about what the internet is doing to the news business.

So what’s so different about where we are today?

In a nutshell (and I know I’m simplifying this), technology has bridged that elusive “last mile.” While newspapers have gone on to flourish post-1845 (due largely to an increased volume of both news and demand), they faced issues with distribution. Social news today — where news finds you — has turned the industry on its head.

The biggest question for news in the “now revolution” is context. Oddly, we’re not the first generation to call for that. In 1891, W.J. Stillman, a journalist and critic, complained in the Atlantic Monthly:

“America has in fact transformed journalism from what it once was, the periodical expression of the thought of the time, the opportune record of the questions and answers of contemporary life, into an agency for collecting, condensing and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence… The frantic haste with which we bolt everything we take, seconded by the eager wish of the journalist not to be a day behind his competitor, abolishes deliberation from judgment and sound digestion from our mental constitutions. We have no time to go below surfaces, and as a general thing no disposition.”

So 150 years and a little more, we are still looking for context. But here in 2010, there is much to be thankful for as new technologies allow us to work with better maps, better illustrations, better graphics — and by adding the voices of readers, a more measured experience.

Context is key. Do newspapers need to be around to make that happen?

Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, Social Media