New Pew study looks at ‘participatory news consumer’

1 03 2010

A study released today by Pew Internet examines “how internet and cell phone users have turned news into a social experience.”

Interestingly, while another report from Pew three months ago found that newspapers still drove the local news “ecosystem” in one city (Baltimore)  it studied intensely, today’s report concludes:

The internet has surpassed newspapers and radio in popularity as a news platform on a typical day and now ranks just behind TV.

Among the other major points of the study:

  • The average online consumer regularly turns to only a few websites.
  • Internet users use the web for a range of news, but local is not near the top of the
  • News is pocket-sized. Some 80% of American adults have cell phones today, and 37% of them go online from their phones.
  • News is personalized: The “Daily Me” takes shape.
  • News is easier to follow now, but overwhelming. And most topics get plenty of coverage, in Americans’ eyes. [The topic on which Americans most want more coverage: Scientific news and discoveries.]

Former CEO of Village Voice: A World without Newspapers

28 02 2010

Feeling curmudgeonly today. I agree with every point David Schneiderman makes here, but I don’t like it one bit.

His conclusions prove that revolutions do not equal progress, and technological advances are separate from quality improvements.

In the case of the Internet spelling the death of newspapers, technology is accelerating the arrival of the lowest common denominator in news and information: tabloid-style “journalism” and opinion undifferentiated from news, delivered not by institutions with time-tested credibility but by news celebrities with personal brands who can gain prominence virtually overnight, particularly if they are edgy and sensational.

It’s a good read, though, and a useful primer on the information revolution.

Counterpoint to death watch for newspapers

28 10 2009

Jonathan Knee of the Media Program at Columbia Business School opines in Barron’s that newspapers are doing just fine.

Until recently, many newspapers had profit margins exceeding 30%. By 2008, the industry’s average margin had fallen to the mid-teens. The speed and magnitude of this decline have resulted in wrenching changes in the way these historically stable businesses must operate.The continuing drama shouldn’t distract from real earnings power. Many newspapers still have almost double the profitability of other media sectors, such as movies, music and books — which have long struggled to achieve margins of even 10%.

Knee concedes that the Internet has hurt newspapers and that Web media deliver value that newspapers can’t match. But he notes that the downside to the Internet is information overload and says newspapers may or may not play a key role in guiding customers through the cacaphony. It depends on whether they join the race for solutions to finding and identifying credible, balanced, and researched content on the Web.

THE NEWSPAPER OF TOMORROW will indeed be very different in terms of how it is produced and delivered, what is in it, and how profitable it is. It will be part of a much more crowded and complex news and information ecosystem.

Operators must aggressively focus on cost and cooperation, designing truly distinctive offerings that leverage their advantages in this newly competitive landscape.

Policymakers currently have plenty of legitimate targets of their attention without worrying about the fate of newspapers or trying to keep change from happening. If they keep out of the way, news junkies in particular should anticipate an era of unprecedented plenty. And investors will be well-rewarded by backing managers who appreciate the continuing, if diminished, profit potential of this new environment.


Rocky Mountain News publisher’s post mortem

1 10 2009

John Temple, former publisher of the former Rocky Mountain News, reflects on its demise in his keynote address at the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit this week. It is a remarkably insightful and self-critical examination. The shorthand version:

Know what business you’re in.
Know your customers.
Know your competition.
Know your goal.
Have a strategy and be committed to pursuing it.
Measure, measure, measure.
Keep new ventures free from the rules of the old.
Let the people running a new venture do what’s best for their business, regardless of the potential impact on the old.
To compete in a new medium, you have to understand it.
Invest in R&D.rocky-mountain-news-600x769

Temple’s prediction for the industry is grim:

There’s still too much of a sense of entitlement in the industry. The Associated Press spends too much time making the case that copyright violation is the problem bringing the industry down when the industry should be focused on building new and better products and services. Are companies making the same mistake in this decade that the Rocky made in the ‘90s, not understanding the competition? I think so.

However, his prescriptions for newspapers could improve the prognosis:

Newspapers should think bigger at the same time as they think smaller. They should look for opportunities to scale. They’re still too focused on unique, market by market solutions. …

Newspapers could end the criticism of an ever-shrinking amount of content if they would partner more with others and invite more people to participate on their sites. (When people say what you often hear, that newspapers seem thinner and thinner, we can’t forget that it also creates a negative impression of what’s happening to their Web sites.) …

Newspapers have traditionally served a small percentage of the businesses in their communities. … Newspapers should find more ways for more local businesses to reach potential customers.

Newspapers should give consumers more control. They’re still thinking too much about themselves and not enough about what the consumer wants.

Newspapers should stop looking longingly in the rear view mirror at 30% margins. …

And, of course, finally, the most difficult recommendation of all, newspapers should stop making decisions about new business opportunities based on how they’ll affect their legacy business. The main newspaper cannot dictate the shape of the future.

Digital Revolution Frustrates Iranian Thug Regime

15 06 2009

This from the London Guardian’s News Blog is really cool.


Iranian people turn digital smugglers in battle for information

Despite depleted phone and internet services, protesters are becoming more inventive in methods of spreading their message

In days gone by, crushing a revolution was a lot easier. There were no mobile phones to co-ordinate street action or relay what was happening to the outside world. Even more importantly, there wasn’t an internet. Now it is common to hear of “internet” or even “twitter revolutions” – as Andrew Sullivan on the Atlantic has already described the current protests in Iran.

It is precisely for that reason that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to have – temporarily at least – shut down Facebook, Twitter, mobile phone networks and unsympathetic websites. Nevertheless, Iranians are still managing to feed out information, embracing the technology that the moderate Mir Hossein Mousavi employed during his ultimately unsuccessful election campaign.

Protestors are uploading dramatic photos of confrontations with police on sites like Flickr.


When we see spontaneous and courageous communiques like this taking advantage of new media, it’s clear that the term “revolution” is correctly applied to what’s happening in digital communications. It’s also clear how digital communications facilitate democratic and human rights revolutions. Scenes like this will only encourage despotic societies like China to clamp down harder on the Internet, but the tide will prove irresistible. The more wired a country, the less tenacious tyrrany.

Cable Pioneer John Malone on How to Get People to Pay for Content They Now Get for Free

2 06 2009

MaloneInterview with Walter Mossberg in today’s WSJ:

MR. MOSSBERG:But you’re the guy that got people to pay for what was free television.

MR. MALONE: There’s the secret.

MR. MOSSBERG:How did you do that?

MR. MALONE: This is a titanic fight, Walt. … The way it was successful was blending together the transport service with the charge for the content. When you were a cable subscriber, you weren’t sure whether you were paying for connectivity or whether you were paying for the content that was embodied in the connectivity.

You had broadcast television initially. Then you started out with distant broadcast. That’s where Ted Turner comes in. Distant broadcast television is brought into a market and added and a charge is increased. You want to get the superstation; it’s another dollar, right? Were people paying for connectivity or were they paying for content? Then, as that blurred environment continued to grow, along comes HBO and says you can watch non-commercially-interrupted movies, but now it’s optional. You don’t have to take it, but it’s another X dollars a month.

At that point, the concept of paying for some television was well enough established in the public’s mind that paying a little more for some premium television started to sell. Of course, that created the opportunity to add the CNNs and the Black Entertainment Televisions and the Discoveries and all of that. Every time we added a channel, we charged a little more. Some of the money went back to the producer of the content.

When the Internet came along, I was terribly concerned that here’s something that’s “for free.” People will pay for connectivity. The industry’s never made successfully the transition to higher-quality content or unique content delivered by the Internet you should pay for. That’s a big intellectual jump.

MR. MOSSBERG:Having not charged for something, how do you then all of a sudden turn around and charge them for it?

MR. MALONE: That’s really the challenge. You should be asking a psychologist. We did it by tying together something that people are perfectly used to paying for—connectivity, communication—with content. If you can introduce incrementally—now you’re getting this 4G wireless data service and, by the way, part of that are these three very interesting things that only work if you’ve got enough speed to enjoy them. Perhaps that’s a way that it can be introduced, just the intellectual concept of paying incrementally for content.

I suspect that it will evolve over time. People will pay on a per-view or on some kind of subscription basis for content on the Internet if the quality is there and there’s convenience. The question you have to ask yourself is, is there going to be an aggregator doing that? This is the role that HBO traditionally did in movies. They aggregated movies and they sold you in bulk. You got 30 movies a month for seven bucks when they started.

MR. MOSSBERG:Netflix is doing that on the Internet. Amazon is doing that on the Internet. Apple is doing that to some extent on the Internet today.

MR. MALONE: I think that if they can differentiate themselves, have uniqueness, then they would become very big.

The cable industry would love to be the aggregator. Hulu would love to be the aggregator. There’ll be a real competition for that role in the future.

Is there a parallel for newspapers and news Web sites? It all comes down to perceived value.

The Costs and Benefits of Distraction

1 06 2009

distractionJust when I was considering a severe diet of reduced social media consumption because of the distraction and wasted time, Twitter alerted me to this excellent article in New York magazine.

The irony is that through Twitter I found wonderful information, very related to my interests, that makes me even more concerned about what’s happened to my ability to focus during the digital age. Further irony: while reading it, I was semi-watching a Harry Potter movie with one daughter and texting another. Further irony: consumption of this digital media led to a very meaningful live, in-person conversation with the first daughter.

The article’s headline, “In Defense of Distraction,” is somewhat misleading because the writer concentrates mostly on the detriments of overstimulation and distraction before ending on a somewhat forced optimistic note.

By the way, what do you know about the Boston Molasses Disaster?

Post-Dispatch: Newspapers are too essential to fail

11 05 2009

In its lead editorial today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch rejects the call for federal aid to newspapers. I agree with this conclusion, but for reasons of pragmatism, not journalistic integrity.

The editorial makes an important point that the very term “newspaper” is becoming antiquated.

The Internet has changed every dynamic and challenged the dominance of daily newspapers, although they still command the largest audience and largest news-gathering teams. The rubric “newspaper” masks the breadth of online content that refreshes around the clock and provides in-depth local/regional news unlike any other medium. Online readership is growing in most newspaper markets.

But newspaper companies must find ways to pay for that news coverage in a digital world where information is free and a click away. News monopolies have vanished.

Right, but I fear the newspaper remains in denial about the impact of the dying business model on journalism itself.

But the newspaper industry doesn’t face a crisis of journalism. It is a crisis of advertising that affects all commercial media — including local television, magazines, radio and cable news. Like newspapers, other media companies have been enforcing layoffs, unpaid furloughs, and pay cuts to reduce expenses as revenue shrinks as advertisers pull back. … Newspapers will begin to heal when the nation’s economy rises from its knees and people begin to spend money again.

This optimism borders on delusion. Economic recovery may slow but will not reverse the decline of newspapers. Advertisers started deserting newspapers not because people weren’t spending money but because the ads were less effective. The cost of ads supporting an antiquated news delivery system was too high compared to the multiple alternative channels available. Also, some species of major advertisers, such as department stores, were marching toward extinction more than a decade ago.  They won’t return. For these and a host of other reasons, I think it’s highly wishful thinking to expect newspaper advertising to return to pre-9/11 levels.

The fact is,  newspaper journalism started suffering long before the current slowdown. Newspapers lost their way two decades ago trying to imitate USA Today and the infotainment model of broadcasters . Distilling “hard” news to one or two paragraphs in summary columns while dedicating front-page space to fluffy features turned off the base readership. Diverting resources away from coverage of local government and issues — and away from enterprising investigative projects —  gave away newspapers’ “essential” nature.

These wrong-headed news-gathering decisions are easy to reverse, and newspapers can get smarter quickly about providing more essential fare. But it’s much more difficult to change the cultural trends that led to declines in readership and the appetite for real news, as well as the commercial forces that negated the returns for newspaper advertising.

Media insiders say Internet hurts journalism

10 04 2009

From The Atlantic:

In a poll of prominent members of the national news media, nearly two-thirds say the Internet is hurting journalism more than it is helping. The poll, conducted by The Atlantic and National Journal, asked 43 media insiders whether, on balance, journalism has been helped more or hurt more by the rise of news consumption online. Sixty-five percent said journalism has been hurt more, while 34 percent said it has been helped more.

I like the way The Atlantic presents verbatims with the poll results.

“It’s been bad in some ways for the media industry—especially newspapers, at this point—but over the long haul, I think the shift to the Web has helped the practice of journalism. It’s subjected journalists to more real-time scrutiny and opened the profession to talented people not affiliated with major media organizations.”

I think this one gets it about right. I think much of the friction has come from journalists in traditional media reacting badly to this scrutiny, seeming arrogant and dismissive toward the Web journalists, which in turn feeds the “scrutiny” or disdain for the so-called MSM. Isn’t it time to get past all that? 


Newspaper editors’ demands rile bloggers

9 04 2009

The vague demands of news executives at the Associated Press meeting this week have met with widespread hostility on the Web. The AP board wants Internet news aggregators and search engines that link to their content to pay up. No one seems to be exactly sure how this would work.

I’d prefer to see collaboration between the old media and the new. The Web needs the branded credibility that comes with the AP, newspaper and broadcast network logos. Web news content will inevitably suffer — has already suffered — as traditional news organs go bust. It seems unrealistic to me for the Webbies to dig in and refuse to consider a payment model. There’s no such thing as free. We all paid for journalism in the cost of our consumer products when advertising supported news. This model is broken, but another must take its place.

Yes, newspapers were slow to react, and their intransigence is largely responsible for their present predicament. That’s the nature of any institution in the face of revolutionary change, but it’s not the whole story. Web purveyors would be wise to stop pointing fingers and start working with traditional media toward a solution.