My current projects
Currently program director and instructor at the Digital News Test Kitchen at the University of Colorado Boulder. Also occasional speaking, digital-media consulting and advising for miscellaneous clients. Now focusing on: future of news technology & techniques, future of investigative journalism, innovative digital storytelling tools, and news business models.
My poor blog gets neglected, but fortunately there’s the monthly Carnival of Journalism thought-fest, which I try to participate in every month, if possible. At least the Carnival prevents me from completely ignoring my blog!
This month’s Carnival prompt is a fascinating one. Put forth by University of Southern California professor Andrew Lih and his students, the provocative question is: “What is your most dangerous idea for journalism?”
Here’s my answer in a video (at the urging of Lih, to get Carnival folks out of their text habit, I suppose):
In the video I mentioned a couple companies. Here are links to their websites:
I missed the last couple Carnivals of Journalism, but it’s time for me to get back into the groove. This month there is a question each for journalists and for technologists. My question is:
If you are a journalist, what would be the best present from programmers and developers that Santa Claus could leave under your Christmas tree?
I’ll overlook the pro-Christian slant (hey, what about under the FSM tree?!) and play the game.
What I’d like to receive is a written contract from some developers and technologist friends committing to spending a year of their time working on projects that are purely related to the betterment (or perhaps resurrection is a better word) of journalism and informing communities, utilizing the latest in technology developments and know-how.
Not to be too restrictive, they can work with me, my colleagues and students in the Journalism program at CU-Boulder, and/or journalists of all kinds in a variety of areas: New crowd-funding systems for news. … New forms of and platforms for crowd-sourcing. … New forms of storytelling that better engage news consumers, and that support making money from readers or users. … New algorithms to identify quality and credibility in news content, and filter out the best stuff (not just the most popular). … New systems to not only entice online and mobile users to pay for news and/or news-related services, but also make it easy and frictionless to make payments. (Could you build a Spotify for news, please?) … New algorithms to better mine the social-media stream (or more accurately, raging torrent of a river) for news which can be personalized to individual readers’ locations and/or interests. … Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.
The point is, developers, programmers, and technologists are in high demand. On my campus, our Computer Science Department is hammered with requests for partnerships and collaborations not just from Journalism, but from all manner of disciplines. If I could get a half dozen CS students to work with the Digital News Test Kitchen for a year, I’d be in heaven.
Out in the “real world,” technologists seem to have better things to do than concentrate on altruistic technology projects that serve to better inform communities or help clueless news executives adapt to the digital age. Where’s the potential big payout in that, after all? The promise of big money is everywhere except in the news industry, it would seem. Venture capitalists don’t want to invest in news ventures, for the most part, so why should individuals with in-high-demand technology skills work within a field where money is more likely to come from philanthropists and foundations than VCs?
Yet I know that there are some technologists who “get it” — who understand that journalism is in crisis; that the deterioration in quality journalism is immensely corrosive of our democracy; and that solutions for improving the sorry state of today’s journalism will require the expertise and effort of technologists working with journalists. I meet some such people at our local Hack/Hackers Colorado meetings. I read about them being part of the Knight Mozilla News Technology Partnership.
There just aren’t enough of them to go around. Certainly there aren’t enough technologists willing to pitch in their expertise to help journalists figure out how to get out of the mess we’re in.
So I’d like Santa, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whoever puts stuff under my holiday tree to find a bunch of talented technologists looking for a challenge like leveraging emerging technology to reinvent a floundering industry which just happens to be vital to the future functioning of our democracy. Maybe they can consider it akin to serving in the Peace Corps for a year; they’ll do something important and good for society, before returning to the work where the money is.
“Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards. What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?”
I’m a bit late, so I’ve had the opportunity to read some of the earlier entries. A common theme is that good, solid, hard-hitting journalism is a must for receiving OJA recognition, and where new technology comes in is for journalists to select the right (digital) technology to best communicate the story in innovative ways. It’s a consistent, logical message: Balance strong journalism with digital innovation. I can’t argue with that.
But I also picked up some disdain about ONA — indeed, about technology-focused and forward-thinking journalists — obsessing too much on “the latest shiny new thing” and downplaying the serious-journalism part. So here I get to veer off the common path and praise shiny new digital things that can be useful in the practice of journalism.
Clearly, no one (including me) is going to advocate ignoring or downplaying the great-journalism piece. But I like the shiny new things that today’s technologists foist on the market, especially those that have interesting and potentially powerful applications for journalism and storytelling.
Of course, I’m biased. My digital-media program at the University of Colorado Boulder serves, in part, as the horizon watcher for the Journalism & Mass Communication program. So it’s my job to take a look at all the shiny new digital things that come along and assess whether or not they might be useful to journalists (and non-journalists doing journalism-like things, like recording disasters and news events when they find themselves as eyewitnesses holding a phone capable of recording audio, video, taking photos, and sharing any of that instantly with the world).
Having done this for a good long time, I like to think that I can identify the new digital toys (um, I mean tools) that have the potential for significantly impacting how we practice journalism. Likewise, I can usually spot the ones that aren’t worth my enthusiasm. Of course, I’m not always right, and neither is anyone else who calls him/herself a media geek.
Again, I’m biased because of the work that I do, but I really wish that more publishers, editors, and journalists working in news organizations would take a more adventurous path and try (the most promising of the) shiny new things. Ditto for professors in journalism programs (and that includes the one where I work). Too many, in my experience, view it as a waste of their time and prefer to wait for others to prove that the latest new technology is important to journalism — then maybe they’ll climb on board.
Oh, Steve, I can hear the skeptics mutter as they read this, you’re just a gadget freak; you enjoy this, but we don’t! … But let’s think about why being a student of “emerging digital technology” is not just an idle pastime for those of us concerned about the future of journalism.
Consider the news industry. Newspapers have died, are dying; journalists by the thousands have been shown the door, and those jobs aren’t coming back. There’s a (small but) thriving new news landscape shaping up, but it’s still dwarfed by old media, and too often funded by foundation and philanthropic money because this new wave of news organizations is not yet sustainable without charity. On the former, slowness in adopting emerging digital technologies is one of the major reasons that the news industry is in such a mess today.
Consider journalism education. Sure, there are plenty of digital innovators teaching tomorrow’s journalists. But they remain the minority. If most journalism educators at colleges and universities focused a decent portion of their time on digital innovation, perhaps the “answers” to resurrecting a failed news industry would have been discovered by now — by faculty, students, and researchers in the higher-education system!
Consider, too, this old Apple TV commercial, “Think Different,” celebrating the innovators and the risk-takers:
Since I first moved from old news to an Internet career in 1994, the ones who “thought differently,” became fabulously wealthy, and invented new industries (thus disrupting old ones) have been in the technology sector, primarily. Journalists mostly “thought the same” about the digital revolution swirling around them, or “thought a little bit differently.” It’s little wonder, then, that our profession still struggles to find its way.
It’s not realistic to believe that journalists can suddenly “think different” to such a degree and achieve as much as the founders of Google, eBay, Twitter, Facebook, et al. But more modest and doable is to take risks and try out promising new digital technologies right away; experiment now, not tomorrow. Accept failures as part of the deal, and run with the successes.
Which leads (finally) back to the Online Journalism Awards. I’d like to see OJA’s organizers recognize and honor the risk takers in the profession. Such an award might not be given to an individual or organization that has yet chalked up a big success. But it is these people and companies that will lead the news industry through this rough digital transition and to success on the other side of the chasm.
I’d like to see OJA reward the misfits and the tinkerers within journalism. Without them guiding the news industry forward, there will be little great journalism on which to bestow awards.
I’m not the most organized person, but I do try. And thanks to some wonderful digital technologies that I’ve discovered, I’m much better at staying organized than in the past. So I do feel qualified to participate in this month’s Carnival of Journalism, where the challenge is:
What are your life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills, and techniques that allow you to work smarter and more effectively?
Here are just a few things that I find most valuable:
While I prefer to do my work and store it in the cloud, Omnifocus is an exception. It’s a client app (Mac only) for organizing projects and your life, and it’s by far the best I’ve found. And I’ve tried LOTS of personal organizers, going all the way back to paper Franklin Planners (failed), to using a Handspring Visor (an old Palm Pilot clone), to Remember the Milk, and loads more that failed me — or more accurately, I failed them. But Omnifocus is great. It takes some time initially to get it set up with your projects and personal behavior patterns reflected, and you need to use it regularly to keep it up to date, but the effort is worth it. Omnifocus also syncs with its iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad apps, but both of those must be purchased separately from the $80 price of the Mac app. (While Omnifocus syncs to the cloud, you’re working on your Mac or iOS device, so I differentiate that from actually working in the cloud, as with something like Remember the Milk.)
This is obvious, but worth mentioning as a cloud-based way to create and store your work and notes. Rather than my old way of taking notes (say, during a phone interview) on TextEdit, I open up a new Google Docs text document and save it to a folder. I also do my writing on Google Docs (unless I’m away from Internet connectivity); I like the security of knowing that if my Macbook’s hard drive dies while I’m writing, my work won’t be lost. (Yes, that has happened to me in the past.)
ActiveInbox for Gmail
I love Gmail, and I’ve loved Gmail for many years. (I cannot believe some people still use Outlook! Yuck!!) What makes Gmail even better is adding on ActiveInbox, which helps you manage e-mail tasks and projects and overall makes managing a massive and active inbox much easier. It works with Gmail’s existing labels, and the learning curve is close to zero. It’s based on GTD (Getting Things Done) principles. I love it.
This is another Gmail add-on, and I can’t recommend this one highly enough. With Rapportive on top of Gmail, when you open up an e-mail, say from someone you don’t know, Rapportive looks up the sender on various social networks and displays that information (along with a photo of the person, usually) in the right column, so it’s simple to learn about the mysterious e-mail correspondent. Hover over any address in an e-mail and Rapportive will instantly reveal details on that person, which is great when an e-mail has multiple recipients and you want to find out more about them.
Scrible is a browser bookmarklet that allows you to highlight any webpage and add comments to it. You can then save the highlighted version of the page to your personal Scrible.com library and tag the articles for grouping, or e-mail the highlighted copy of the article to someone else. This is a very new product, so it’s not perfect; I occasionally try to mark up or save an article and Scrible’s servers are super-slow or don’t respond. I wish that I could share my personal library of highlighted articles, or groups of tagged highlighted articles, with others, but that’s not possible (and probably would violate copyright law if it was). But I really like the interface of this bookmarklet. My wife insists that Diijo is the best of these types of save-stuff-and-mark-it-up solutions, but I prefer Scrible; it just seems faster that using Diijo. I’m hoping that Scrible will evolve to be even better, but it’s off to a great start.
USAA Mobile Deposit
If you don’t bank with USAA, perhaps your bank has a similar phone app. USAA’s iPhone app allows you to take photos of both sides of a check and deposit it instantly. Thankfully, electronic deposit, Paypal, et al are fast making paper checks go the way of printed newspapers. But just like newspapers, checks will be with us for a while, so it’s a great time-saver to be able to use my iPhone to deposit them.
Zite for iPad
I own an iPad (1), and it’s my favored device for keeping up with RSS feeds (i.e., personalized news). I’ve tried most of the slick RSS readers and personalized-news apps for the iPad, like Flipboard, News.me, Trove, Reeder, and others that I’ve now put out of my memory. But Zite stands out and is the one that I continue to use regularly. Highly recommended.
Here in Boulder, Colorado, our dominant newspaper is moving out of its long-time home in the heart of downtown. Next weekend, the Daily Camera is vacating its home at 11th and Pearl Streets — where it has been downtown’s longest-operating business — to an office in a business park in east Boulder.
The Daily Camera building on Pearl Street
It’s a sound business decision. The Camera building sits at the west end of the Pearl Street Mall, a four-block pedestrian-only shopping area that is the heart and soul of the city and a major tourist draw. The building afforded reporters close proximity to municipal government and the county courthouse, plus many of Boulder’s most prominent companies, including many in the city’s thriving tech start-up scene.
In other words, the land that the Camera’s building sits on is very valuable real estate, and with fewer employees and the paper’s printing presses long gone from the premises, it made sense to unload the property and move to smaller, less-expensive digs. The Camera and its owners, MediaNews Group of Denver, sold the building to Los Angeles-based Karlin Real Estate for $9 million last August. Now it’s time to move out.
Particularly for a city like Boulder, where the downtown area is more special than most (stated as an adoring resident of this college town), it is not a good thing that the primary news source no longer has a physical presence in the heart of town. This is a loss to the community.
I’m not going to gripe about the move, or suggest that the Camera’s executives reconsider their decision to move to an impersonal office park. Rather, here’s my suggestion to editor Kevin Kaufman and publisher Al Manzi — to turn a negative into a positive:
Lease shop space on the Pearl Street Mall and open a coffee shop (or move in with an existing popular coffee shop as a partner).
This might be an independent shop run by people in that business, in partnership with the Daily Camera. (Boulder has several tony coffee shops that are favorites of the tech crowd: Ozo’s, The Cup, Atlas Purveyors…)
Or it could be a deal with a chain like Starbucks or Pete’s, where cohabitation of the space is negotiated.
Brand the Pearl Street coffee shop with the Daily Camera name: e.g., Daily Camera’s The Cup, or Ozo’s at the Daily Camera.
Expand the notion of a typical downtown coffee shop to include:
Plenty of comfortable furniture for casual work and reading while partaking on pricy coffee drinks and pastries.
Print editions of the Camera available (of course), as well as digital tablets that customers can check out (credit card imprint for deposit, please!) to read the Camera and other websites using free wi-fi.
Coffee shop loyalty programs or memberships, which give members special privileges (such as discounts on drinks and food, or hassle-free check-out of digital tablets).
Meeting/lecture space for periodic newsmaker lectures and public discussion events, with free events subsidized by sales of those expensive drinks. Or low admission prices but free admission to coffee shop members.
An editor (or two) stationed at the coffee shop, available to interact with the public but also physically positioned to respond quickly to report downtown news events. (And with a desk to perform normal newsroom duties.)
A couple public computers designed to solicit story ideas, news tips, and feedback for the office-park newsroom dwellers.
If I were in Manzi or Kaufman’s shoes, I’d worry that the Camera brand would suffer by the loss of a physical location in the heart of the action downtown. A trendy coffee shop co-branded with the Camera could alleviate that problem. And if the partners running the drink and food side of the business know what they’re doing, the co-branded business won’t cost the newspaper company anything — and might even bring in some new profits.
After writing a column for Editor & Publisher Online for so long (it was my “Stop The Presses!” column that served as the website’s main original content at the very beginning), it feels weird to have the final one published.
But it’s online, “Goodbye, for Now: Looking Foward.” (My editors rejected my apparently too-controversial suggested headline: “Stop a Lot of the Presses! (Farewell, E&P).”
There’s no place for online discussion of the column on the E&P site, so I hope anyone with an opinion on it will use the Comments area below this blog item to react to what I’ve written.
I chose to go out with a two-part list.
One is 20/20 hindsight fantasy: what the last 15 years should have looked like if only the newspaper industry’s leaders (and employees and outside analysists and pundits) had reacted to (and more effectively lobbied industry leaders on how to respond to) disruptive change properly.
The other is prediction: based on the reality of what did happen over that time and the decisions made, what can the newspaper industry expect next and what will the news eco-system look like.
I’ll continue writing on the future of news — and yes, expressing my opinions — on this blog. You’ll also start to see me writing on a blog associated with my newest project, set to launch in January 2010: the Digital Media Test Kitchen at the University of Colorado at Boulder. More on that very soon.
To any and everyone who spent any time reading “Stop The Presses!” over the years, thank you for spending some of your valuable time pondering my words. To everyone I’ve interviewed, thank you for sharing your ideas and opinions — and educating me on what’s to become of media in the digital era. And to my editors at E&P (present and past), thanks for allowing me this venue, and for your support over the years. Good luck!
I spent Monday and Tuesday this week participating in the “Upgrade to Digital” workshop at the brand spanking new Boulder Digital Works at CU facility in downtown Boulder, a bleeding-edge training program to teach advanced creative, tech, and business digital-media skills. (Disclaimer: I attended on a free pass since I’m working on building a digital-media initiative for CU’s Journalism & Mass Communication School.)
What was especially great about the experience was that the workshop was run by Scott Prindle and Joe Corr, VP/director of technology and senior technical lead, respectively, of Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the white-hot ad agency with offices here in Boulder and in Miami. Other CPB personnel also floated in and out (plus other special guest presenters), so attendees were treated to being taught, and critiqued, by ad agency rock stars.
Since I’m focused on the news industry and its transformation, I had a different perspective than most of the other workshop participants; I was thinking of how what we were seeing and learning could be adapted and/or applied to news (from digital techniques, to business models, to technology). In this and perhaps more blog entries, I’ll share a few take-aways from the last two days, as viewed through my news-colored glasses.
1. It’s the utility, stupid! Those companies savvy enough to be on the digital forefront (enough so that they’re spending money with CPB) are experimenting with smart-phone apps and web applications that emphasize utility for the customer, not just trying to get a brand message across. A phone example is Nike’s Nike+ running shoe with an embedded chip that communicates data with Nike+ on an iPhone (or iPod). There’s a website and social training community built around the product and its personal data from you, so that you can do stuff like time yourself time on a specific route, then compare it to a friend who runs the same route at a different time — a virtual competition. The phone and online components are meant to sell Nike+, certainly, but they provide the Nike+ customer with a great training log and social tool. It’s not just about selling, but improving the shoe buyer’s life. Utility.
Apply this to news: When developing mobile apps, think utility, not just presenting news. An app that keeps track of local road construction projects and finds re-routes around them could be handy for local commuters, for example. It might be introduced one time to accompany a big story about all the local road projects under way due to the federal stimulus money coming into the community — but it could be used by commuters and residents long term, and re-marketed each time there’s another road-construction and traffic-delays story.
On the web, CPB presenters showed us their NCAA Final Four Bracket-o-matic Flash project created for Coca-Cola Zero. (Link is to video.) The idea was to make the NCAA basketball championship grid easy to fill out; instead of picking teams and inputing them into the grid based on who you think will win, there’s a series of sliders along the top that fills out the grid based on 8 variables that you adjust.
What struck me about this was the thin line between a soda company doing this vs. a news company producing the same sort of thing and selling advertising around it. The Bracket-o-matic would feel OK as an editorial online feature. Again, it provides utility as well as fun. Why did an advertiser do it and not a media company? Coca-Cola had the money to pay CPB to create it; most news companies don’t have the technical chops to pull something like this off.
Gary Kebbel and Jose Zamora of the Knight Foundation explain what they’re looking for and how to craft a proposal for the 2010 Knight News Challenge that stands the best chance of winning some of the $5 million in grants.
I must say, I’ve never felt this pessimistic about the future of newspaper companies. (Thanks, API for suggesting a suicidal strategy to the industry.) Sure, I’ve been uncertain for a LONG time that newspaper companies could make a graceful transition into the digital age, but I’d felt that when things got bad enough for the industry, newspaper executives would be forced to try some of the “radical” ideas that new-media pundits (including me) espouse, rather than crouch into a defensive position as seems to be happening.
No longer do I have much confidence that newspaper CEOs and publishers will do the right thing, but there are still plenty of obvious things (well, apparently not obvious to many tradition-bound, unyielding newspaper executives) that they could do to save their companies:
Transform the company to digital-first, and stop putting most of the energy into saving print revenues. (Focus on the future, not the past. D’uh!)
When the time comes (for many papers, it’s here now), reduce the number of days the print edition is published (keep that print insert business alive a while longer) and rely on web and mobile distribution of news and advertising the rest of the week, transitioning the print audience to the new way, including paid digital-replica editions for the older demographic that still craves the “print experience.”
Stop shipping newspapers long distances any day of the week and transition far-flung customers to web, e-mail, RSS, and/or mobile news versions of your news product.
Go full-bore on a mobile-phone strategy for news and targeted (and geo-targeted) advertising, including creating mobile news apps with enough value and utility that people will be willing to pay for them. Understand that mobile may become the core news distribution in the near future.
Stop spending money on locally producing what others do better online, thereby cutting expenses, and focus on the newspaper’s core competencies of local news coverage and community, and performing effective watchdog journalism. Do you really need a D.C. bureau? A local movie reviewer? A full-time food editor?
Dump stocks pages of day-old listings, and the daily page of TV listings, and movie-time listings from the print edition. Use a small amount of space to point print readers to web and mobile versions, which might be the newspaper’s own or someone else’s.
As Jeff Jarvis says, create the best and link to the rest.
Turn to an agency model for advertising, selling not just into the company’s own print and digital products, but also giving advertisers one place for them to turn to get their message smartly distributed throughout the confusing digital landscape outside of the newspaper company’s product walls. Do this with classifieds as well as with what’s traditionally been called “retail” or “display” advertising. And offer free classifieds to compete with Craigslist, et al, but make money on upsells and from the agency role of placing a customer’s ads into multiple digital venues.
Accept that the web is about free and stop fighting it. (Learn from the music industry’s profound mistakes.) Develop “freemium” strategies for the web and mobile, where tiers of any particular service are offered, from free to several dollars a month; but always have a free option that offers some real value and isn’t just a ruse to get people to upgrade to paid immediately because the free version is so pathetic.
Create and encourage newspaper readers and digital users to join a “membership program” with an automatic monthly or annual fee that not only gives them access to some special or premium content or services produced by the newspaper (say, personalization), but also offers a killer discount and freebies card (or mobile phone app) that leverages existing advertisers, brings them lots of new customers, and gives paying members so much value that they’d be crazy to pass on paying for a membership. Create tiered levels of such memberships, so everyone can afford to participate. Use that money, which can be significant if done right, to supplement ad revenues and support the newsroom.
Allow various ways for readers to voluntarily support the news-gathering operation, from voluntary networks that distribute monthly contributions based on what websites or blogs a user chooses to support (e.g., Kachingle); from networks that offer access to “premium” content across many websites and spread the money among the sites (e.g., Contenture); from tipping mechanisms that allow readers to contribute whatever they want to support either a site, a particular writer, or even a specific article (e.g., Payyattention, Tipjoy); etc. Online, give some control to the user to pay what he/she thinks your content is worth.
Innovate, innovate, innovate on digital advertising, recognizing that it will continue to be the core revenue stream online and with mobile.
Innovate some more in coming up with more new revenue streams, because you’ll need more to make up for less advertising money than in the past.
Stop behaving as though other traditional media are competitors and start cooperating with them, including expansive cross-promotion.
If newspaper companies deployed all those strategies and more, the printed newspaper would be a smaller product that it is even today. But it would retain what’s best, reposition staff to focus on developing new online and mobile revenue opportunities, and live to fight another day. The newspaper industry likely would be smaller, but that’s an improvement over continuing layoffs and bankruptcies. Remaining newsroom staff would focus on what’s important. New newsroom jobs will be created as new digital services are devised that have a business model supporting them. But publishers wouldn’t be wasting money on content that’s been replaced by services on the web and mobile devices, but publishers don’t want to admit it.
Alas, our wise old newspaper CEOs (many of them; let’s not paid too broad a brush) remain headed down a path to regain control over their content and pry more money out of Google. The strategy seems geared to getting them through to retirement and squeezing the last of the dollars out of an industry that they can’t figure out how to reinvent.
I’m fine with a new wave of entrepreneurs, visionaries, and academics inventing the news after newspapers. That’s happening right now. We’ll muddle through and figure out a new news infrastructure that serves society in the way newspapers used to do — no, actually, better once it’s matured.
The depressing part is seeing the industry’s current leaders essentially give up. And the backward strategy espoused by that API report is just that: an acknowledgment that “we newspaper leaders can’t figure this out, so we’ll go backward.”
The newspaper industry is seeing bankruptcies, layoffs, the loss of serious watchdog journalism, and a sickening decline in quality because of the “situation.” While a sour economy is clearly a big part of the problem, the biggest problem is that the industry’s leaders seem to think there are no good solutions other than wading in the ocean and pushing back the waves (i.e., tectonic changes in consumer behavior and advertiser spending patterns).
Yet there are many, many solutions being offered, just a few of which I mentioned in the list above. What is wrong with the newspaper industry’s top leaders? Do they only listen to each other? Can anyone explain?
I’m on record as being opposed to charging for generic news content (including locally reported stories) on newspaper websites. I covered that in my last Editor & Publisher Online column, where I also outlined an alternative strategy to supplement weak online ad revenues. I also liked Steve Buttry’s “Seven reasons charging for content won’t work,” which nicely lays out the principal arguments against the paid-web-content strategy that seems to be shaping up. Evidence: last week’s quasi-secret newspaper CEOs’ meeting where paid online news was discussed; and MediaNews Group‘s web strategy shift as documented in a recent interview with CEO Dean Singleton in which he states:
“We’re going to move away from giving away our news content online for free — give a small amount of it away, and then air that out with reader-generated copy, with user-generated copy, with listings and other things online. We’re planning to make our online offerings much different than our print offerings.”
I’ll stick with my view that a MNG-type approach will fail, and Buttry’s seven reasons explain why. (An addition from me: In an era when people expect news to reach them in many ways, in many formats, and on many devices, it’s anachronistic to return to publishing news on one medium primarily and handicapping distribution on digital media forms, like the web, where different rules apply.)
But that’s not to say that I’m dogmatic on the idea of newspapers (or other types of news entities, for that matter) charging for web content. I think that there’s a line that needs to be set that’s optimal, and Singleton’s suggestion that most of his newspapers’ news content will go behind the must-pay-for wall is over the line and an impending disaster for his company.
(On the “positive” side, at least his newspapers will be the guinea pigs that prove whether charging for general local news on the web is possibly a workable strategy. Other newspaper publishers can watch and learn. I expect MediaNews Group will quickly learn it’s not working, and switch to another model, probably pioneered by someone else.)
The way for newspapers to charge for content is not rocket science. They must create new types of high-value, probably niche, content, communities, and/or services that are unique enough that people will be willing to pay for them. That’s tricky when your newspaper has laid off a big chunk of its editorial staff. But if it’s shedded stuff that others do better on the web — no more local movie critic, TV editor, books editor, etc. — then perhaps there can be room to rethink what a “newspaper” is about and start creating new content and services that break out of the newspaper box.
Newspapers have already lost many of the things they used to do to national web players that do a better job and can serve local audiences. The discussion now should be on what new things a newsroom full of journalists can do that are outside what we’ve known and valuable enough to get people to pull out their credit cards.