The Now/ledge

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

Year Zero: Relearning journalism, on the internet

I’m fast coming up to my first anniversary at Yahoo!. It’s been an amazing year to have been in the online industry and I’m glad I made the move from traditional media. In many ways, I’ve been forced to learn and relearn the news industry — the way content is created and distributed — and perhaps more importantly, witness the changing face of storytelling in the internet age.

The idea for this post came from Yahoo!’s country editor for Indonesia, Budi Putra, who himself made the leap of faith a number of years back when he left the esteemed Tempo to start a blogging network. Budi insisted that a post like this would be interesting (and hopefully) useful to others seeking to make the shift.

So this is what I’ve learned in Year Zero:

Traditional media is more important than ever. Bottom line — traditional, legacy newsrooms are still the most efficient sources of news production today. Traditional news teams, thanks to a tested (although sometimes dysfunctional) mode of operations, are able to deliver quality reporting on a predictable basis. I don’t know many full online news teams who have been able to do this. Despite all the buzz about social news, there would be little to Tweet about if not for traditional media.

Crowd-sourcing is the beginning, not the end of the process. Ignore the pundits who tell you that user generated content is the new news model. It isn’t. No matter how you slice it, UGC requires strong curation and distillation. Only a great editor is able to help you filter out the noise. As Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt put it recently, “If you’re ever confused as to the value of newspaper editors, look at the blog world.”

Commoditized content. I struggle with this word. Pre-Yahoo!, my world was about articles, photos, videos, comments, shows, rundowns, soundbites. In the online news world, so much of what is produced now comes under a faceless, commoditized product called “content.” This shift toward commoditizing the online news industry will only lead to more generic volume, coming at the expense of quality. Content farms like Demand Media and Seed are a worthwhile experiment on how to create this “stuff” quickly. Unfortunately, none of this is differentiated.

Shepherding the communities. This is arguably the most crucial role that online media plays — the ability to seed and drive dialogue and conversations about stories. However, this requires an investment in resources. Moderating and growing a community doesn’t come cheap and requires a lot of time.

Journalism isn’t dead. It just needs a new business model. I feel we’re getting closer to this. Just look at the nonprofit ProPublica, which recently won a Pulitzer for its collaborative work done with The New York Times Magazine. Nonprofit online investigative journalism meets an established magazine. A viable news model? We don’t have a choice but to give it a shot.

Filed under: News, Social Media

The irony and the pessimism in journalism

There were two vastly different points of view in the world of journalism today.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that most leaders of today’s newsrooms in the U.S. don’t believe their operations will survive another 10 years.

The gloomiest: Nearly a third of those surveyed believe their operations are at risk in just five years or less.

The deepest pessimism is seen among broadcast news execs, who are more worried about where the industry is headed than editors at newspaper-based operations.

Strange but true. The medium that helped create the “Now Revolution” is feeling the heat as it tries to keep up with social news.

On this very same day however, support for the news industry came from an unlikely camp — Google.

CEO Eric Schmidt told the American Society of News Editors in Washington, DC that journalism is irreplaceable:

We’re not in the news business, and I’m not here to tell you how to run a newspaper. We are computer scientists. And trust me, if we were in charge of the news, it would be incredibly accurate, incredibly organized, and incredibly boring. There is an art to what you do. And if you’re ever confused as to the value of newspaper editors, look at the blog world. That’s all you need to see. So we understand how fundamental tradition and the things you care about are.

I can’t think of a better way to look at what we do. As Schmidt put it, “We have a business model problem. We don’t have a news problem.”

Filed under: News, Newspapers

Nikkei’s content moat — a bit extreme?

Just how far will a publisher go to protect its content assets in an online world?

The Nikkei this month took the extreme (and inexplicable) step of restricting any links to its articles — even to its own home page.

Under its new policy of requiring paid subscriptions, the Japanese financial news publication wants written requests for linking to the site. The Nikkei said the rules are meant to protect the pay wall and to stop linking from “inappropriate” sites that may try to manipulate stocks by misrepresenting the articles. Offenders are threatened with legal action.

Despite its role in the digital revolution, Japanese media still work in an isolated pond, stifiling innovation in news. Perhaps this is best understood in context: The country is home to the world’s biggest newspapers — the Yomiuri (with about 10 million readers) and the Asahi (8 million). Publishers are clearly trying to build a moat to prevent the cannibalizing of newspapers.

Extreme times — and equally extreme measures indeed.

(Photo/Creative Commons: Okinawa Soba, Flickr)

Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, ,

Sanity check needed on WSJ’s iPad subscription pricing

The Wall Street Journal’s pricing for its iPad subscription offers an interesting insight into how Rupert Murdoch is looking at tablet computing — in short, a premium cash cow.

WSJ’s app is free to download but costs users US$3.99 a week. For that amount, you’ll get access to the Business, Markets and Opinion sections.

This is how it compares to other WSJ subscriptions in the U.S. on a monthly basis:

  • iPad edition: $17.29 a month
  • Kindle edition: $14.99 a month
  • Print edition: $9.16 a month
  • Web edition: $7.96 a month
  • Is Murdoch insane? I’m not sure if I get it; what is it about the iPad that warrants a premium? The cost of production for iPad content is virtually zero for the WSJ — so why is that almost double the price of the physical newspaper?

    Clearly, the WSJ is looking to test the market for iPads. But this is risky and runs the risk of alienating a wider audience that the paper needs to reach. The iPad has a tremendous opportunity to connect with new users. So why blow it?

    Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing,

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