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Why the top 12 best words to put in your headlines will unlock the secret to your future

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

I think, based on the accompanying video, Matt Thompson pulled this list of the “12 most interesting headline words” out of his proverbial ass. Whatever. In Thompson’s case, that’s regularly enough to make it gold.

  1. Top
  2. Why
  3. How
  4. Will
  5. Guide
  6. Best
  7. Secret
  8. Ultimate
  9. Your
  10. Worst
  11. New
  12. Future

Here’s a link to Thompson’s slideshow, titled “Dark secrets of the online overlords.” Like so many of the arguments I’ve found most persuasive in the last few years, much of this one consists of repeated examples of ways we should allĀ do what Nick Denton is doing.

(via NiemanLab)

The difference between topical journalism and advocacy

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Advocates give a shit. Journalists can’t afford to.

As the editor of a topical startup, I’m easily mistaken for an advocate on behalf of my audience. It’s true, there’s a strong resemblance: like an advocate, I start my day with the assumption that my audience deserves happiness and prosperity.

But this is the same assumption that starts the day for every media outlet in the world.

Here’s the difference between advocacy and journalism: Before doing anything, an advocate asks himself or herself: “What effect will this have?”

That’s the one question a journalist should almost never ask. There’s no quicker way to stifle an interesting or useful idea.

Why the general audience exists

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

One word: classifieds.

By now, most people in the news business know that the collapse of classified revenue is the biggest financial threat newspapers face in the short term. But many fail to realize that not only were classifieds hugely profitable, classifieds were the only glue holding general-audience publications in one piece.

It’s one of the many reasons why startups should generally not seek general audiences.

In media that face a scarcity of supply, like broadcast television or highway billboards, things are different. But the central goal of newspapers — amassing a large general audience — is profitable only because a classified section is a snowball: the bigger it gets, the faster it grows.

(Briefly, here’s why. Obviously, every additional classified-section reader makes that section more valuable to advertisers. But because people who use a classified section want more than anything to maximize their selection of products, every additional classified ad makes the section more valuable to readers. It’s a virtuous cycle.)

All this, I’ve understood for a while. Here’s what I didn’t grok until lately: the need to maximize the classified audience used to be a huge centripetal force on news content, pulling coverage toward the center of public life, toward the things everyone shared. The publisher’s objective: maximize the audience. The editor’s marching orders: please everyone in town a little bit.

Meanwhile, there was an opposing, centrifugal force: display advertising. Unlike classified advertisers, most businesses are looking for narrow demographics. They don’t want to pay for a big display that everyone will see. They want to pay for a cheaper display that only the right people will see. The narrower your audience, the less of your marketing budget that you’re wasting.

So: retail ads would seek diversified audiences, classified ads would seek general audiences — and for a while, classifieds would win.

Then the sea change.

These days, newspapers aren’t scarce; a printing press comes free with every Internet connection. For a few years, even the lure of free classifieds on Craigslist couldn’t offset the value of the big audience offered by a newspaper. But one by one, advertisers slipped toward the free service, and the classifieds audience has followed. A tipping point came in 2007, when Craigslist’s growing audience (and that of other listings sites) got big enough to be really valuable.

More or less, this is why the crisis is happening now.

Today, retailers are still looking for niches. Retail advertisers want to push newspapers and other audience-generating businesses away from the center of public life, into all the demographic nooks and crannies.

And today, there are no classifieds to pull us back.

Next gen of online comments: in-line comments

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

I’m late to this party, but if you haven’t seen the comment system on Jack Slocum’s blog, you gotta. I’m not sure it lends itself to news, since it requires that click to view, but this is still explosive stuff.

Who is The Medium Run for?

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Short answer, of course, is that it’s for you. But the long answer is that it’s for my boss.

One of my personal hobbyhorses is that you should always know your intended audience. They don’t have to be the same as your actual audience, but your writing will be better if you’ve got an end-user (as they say) in mind. Some journalists write their articles to their moms. I usually write to my friend Mark, actually.

Well, this blog is written for my editor, by which I mean all his colleagues at small- to mid-size newspapers around the English-speaking world, who are trying to find their way online. And, to a lesser extent, folks who are, like me, in less powerful positions but looking for ways to advocate change.

I don’t expect many of those folks to read me, but frankly, fellow commentators, you’re not the ones who will save my industry, so I’m not going to write with you in mind. Sometimes, though not always, this means that I’ll be writing what’s obvious to those more steeped in this stuff. I can handle that. I hope you can, too.