The Now/ledge

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

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.

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Filed under: Facebook, News, Newspapers, Social Media

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, , , , ,

  • How will the news syndication model evolve?

    In his piece for Nieman Journalism Lab’s predictions for 2011, Clay Shirky makes a big deal of the disruption of the syndication model in a social news environment. His prediction works like this: bloggers are ripping off and building on reporting done by news agencies like Reuters and AP, so why will newspapers even need to buy wire subscriptions anymore when they can, in turn, just get it off the blogs?

    He writes:

    “This kind of linking, traffic driving, and credit are natively web-like ideas, but they are also inimical to the older logic of syndication. Put simply, syndication makes little sense in a world with URLs. When news outlets were segmented by geography, having live human beings sitting around in ten thousand separate markets deciding which stories to pull off the wire was a service. Now it’s just a cost.”

    Sure, journalism is not an efficient value system. As Ken Doctor described it, “journalism is essentially a manufacturing process, with as much or as little value added as we want.”

    In the case of newspapers, no one called the end to wire reporting just because columnists were building opinion pieces on top of the work done by their colleagues in the field. This is the same of the blogosphere — you will always need the raw materials on which you build an opinion. In television news (where I’ve spent most of my career), much of what makes it on air comes from wire services — videos, photos, articles. The spit and polish comes from talking heads — an evolving industry trend (now largely the norm) in the past 15 years.

    News agencies, in my view, will continue to evolve and in my prediction, this will be no different from any other industry that works directly with raw materials. Reuters, AP and AFP won’t go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, their business model and more importantly, the product, needs to change. The goal is can no longer be a final piece that ends up published in a newspaper. The mandate instead, needs to be to provide columnists, editors and bloggers the raw facts — data, photos, analytics — in which they then build their own versions of the story.

    Now that’s the value-add for 2011.

    Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, Social Media, Television,

    Murdoch and the modern newspaper

    When was the last time you were excited about the launch of a newspaper?

    Come mid-December (or early next year — depending on which rumor you trust), Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp will be putting out what appears to be the world’s first digital newspaper, called The Daily, made exclusively by a new editorial team for Apple’s iPad. That’s right — this is an iPad-only publication, with no (union/legacy) strings attached to a printed issue.

    Seldom has the launch of yet another iPad app attracted such attention in the press. Rumors have been flying and this is what appears to be coming down the line according to several reports:

  • News Corp will invest $30 mil in the first year
  • Content is focused on the U.S. market
  • It will cost 99 cents a week
  • 100-150 journalists have been hired
  • Jesse Angelo, the managing editor and schoolmate of Lachlan Murdoch (Rupert’s son), will run it
  • According to The Guardian, Rupert Murdoch came up with the idea after examining a survey that showed readers were spending more time on the iPad than on the desktop. No surprise. Murdoch believes that The Daily will prove that consumers will pay for high-quality, original content online.

    But the biggest challenge is the platform itself. In an age of social media, there is apparently neither inbound nor outbound links on The Daily. What’s the point of a great article if you can’t share it?

    An official announcement has been expected in mid-December at an Apple event, though the FT citing people familiar with the project says a launch in 2011 is more likely.

    Such an endeavor requires the support of Apple, which has so far refused to allow publications to seek subscriptions through its iTunes Store. I’m sure Steve Jobs is no dummy — there is plenty of money on the table for subscriptions. Amazon is doing it with the Kindle, why not Apple?

    Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing

    Guardian releases blogging, commenting guidelines for journos

    The UK’s Guardian newspaper has published its best practices for journalists blogging and responding to comments on its site.

    No major surprises and most are common sense (“Don’t reward disruptive behavior with attention, but report it when you find it.”) Perhaps the most interesting reminder to journos:

    #1. Participate in conversations about our content, and take responsibility for the conversations you start.

    Definitely worth keeping in mind.

    Filed under: Newspapers, Social Media

    The app economy: a better model for publishers?

    The plan by The New York Times to license its iPad/iPhone publishing tool represents a big step forward for the newspaper industry.

    The platform, simply called Press Engine, will be used by the Telegraph Media Group and newspapers such as Dallas Morning News, Providence Journal and Press-Enterprise in Southern California.

    The publishers will pay the NYT a one-time license fee for the platform and then a monthly maintenance fee.

    This is a great idea since it reduces the barrier to entry for small publishers, while at the same time, provides major newsppapers like the NYT a chance to experiment with a new revenue stream. This could be a viable business model. Just look at the software industry.

    The app economy offers an alternative to the pay-wall model that some publishers have adopted. As I was telling an Indonesian newspaper editor last night, it’s time the industry took a page from the software industry — sell applications, not subscriptions. As a consumer, I’d be more likely to pay for an upgraded app with great features every six months. I wouldn’t — and have never — paid for an online subscription.

    Filed under: Newspapers

    The real threat to journalism

    It isn’t as though journalism needed another threat; there are plenty to choose from.

    But the rise of paywalls, most recently seen in the UK’s Times, Sunday Times and Rolling Stone magazine, may be the medicine that kills the patient.

    Repeat after me: Traffic leads to money and in turn, is far more capable at enhancing the quality of journalism than undermine it.

    Putting great stories, photos and video behind a ringed fence only diminish the overall pool of news in the industry. As David Amerland, an SEO specialist describes it:

    “The approach threatens journalists, whose jobs will be the next to go as online news readers dwindle and revenue drops even further. This threatens journalism because it encourages the emergence of less professional services that directly, and more successfully, compete with it.”

    Is isolation really the best way forward for news organizations? Advertising, long abandoned as a savior for online newsrooms, could be a viable option in the near future.

    According to Peter Kirwan, who crunched the numbers in an article for Wired, an ad-supported Guardian could turn off the presses by 2015. Assuming no increase in the cost of operating the Guardian newsroom and a modest 20 percent increase in ad revenue, freedom could be a mere five years away.

    Can newsrooms afford to wait? More importantly, will the audience?

    (Photo: Jeremy Brooks/Creative Commons)

    Filed under: Jobs, Newspapers, Publishing

    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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