The Now/ledge

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

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.

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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

    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

    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,

    Ok, now I want an iPad

    I recognize that I’ve been quick to dismiss Apple’s iPad; now I want one.

    When I first saw the keynote by Steve Jobs, I thought to myself how lame it was — that really, the iPad is nothing more than a bigger iPod Touch or an iPhone.

    I’ve come around to see that there’s more to that. In many ways, it is just a larger screen, but the iPad will give content publishers a new and far more interesting way to distribute and engage their audiences.

    So what got me going? This video by Wired and Adobe. Check out what Wired wants to do with its articles on an iPad. Then come back and tell me if this doesn’t get you going.

    And if you haven’t already heard, the iPad hits the shelves in the U.S. on April 3. It reaches Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK in late April.

    Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, Tools

    Imagine a world without newspapers

    David Schneiderman, the ex-CEO of Village Voice Media, has a fantastic piece in TechFlash about the current ecosystem we live in, and in particular the all-too-familiar view of the world after newspapers.

    His forecasts aren’t as interesting as his concise summary of the current state of play. Here are the main points:

  • Demand-driven journalism increasingly influences news judgments
  • Web journalism is fast becoming the dominant form of news media
  • Nothing is ever final online
  • The best and most influential reporters are becoming brand names.
  • The distinction between news and opinion will continue to erode
  • I find the first point especially interesting. You can’t deny the fact that web editors and producers are counting the clicks, comments and page views that you leave behind.

    This is worrying; in the last two years alone, there has a been a dramatic change in the way we write headlines (primarily to feed hungry search engines). There are more lists, more magazine-style coverlines. And all this at the expense of good, clear writing.

    The definition of “news judgement” has changed. It’s no longer about what people need to know (and what you, the editor, know), but what people will find “interesting” — the definition of which is vague, but ironically, measurable.

    I miss newspapers already.

    (Photo/Creative Commons: inju, Flickr)

    Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing

    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

    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, , ,

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