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The logical conclusion of Newspaper Next

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

The surprising implication of the very persuasive Newspaper Next presentation I sat through today: Screw newspapers. If newspapers don’t need us, we don’t need them.

Need I add that I’m not talking about the short run here?

No jump on this one. More about this in a later post, maybe.

Sun Tzu says: social networks before A/V

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

A chorus of my peers yesterday afternoon failed to overturn a pet iconoclasm of mine: unless they’re affiliated with radio or TV stations, most local newspapers should not be dumping lots of money into audio and video. It doesn’t dovetail with our current work, and it dovetails perfectly with the work of our biggest news competitors’ — local radio and TV stations.

Video is more compelling than print, no question. And newspapers have the dominant local Web sites. (I desperately hope we retain them.) So why shouldn’t we introduce video in order to serve and retain our visitors?

Because, in short, it’s not our specialty. We’ve got newsrooms of word reporters. We can find a bunch of great ways to reorganize those words for the Web. We can arrange data in nifty graphics and tables — numbers are a lot like words, really. We cannot, without a lot of training and capital investment, put up a short video of reasonable quality.

If video, like interactive graphics, were a new medium, that’d be different. Nobody has yet institutionalized the delivery of infographics for profit. But video and audio are hugely profitable and masterfully done by very close competitors.

And yet — those competitors aren’t simply better than us. They’re better at different things. The customizable print experience (more on that soon) has given us a newsgathering depth that broadcasters can’t match. We should build on our strengths, not push to provide redundant video services that local broadcasters could do better if they merely lifted a finger on the Web.

I’m not saying that no newspapers should be experimenting with this stuff. But smaller local papers, working with smaller scale economies, have higher priorities, like catching up on search, organizing data into parcels and improving social network functions.

One powerful counterargument that wasn’t quite enough to bring me around to video: our competition here isn’t really local TV; it’s the rest of the non-local-news media landscape.

There are surely times when video, especially, is so compelling that it demands to be included. But we should remember that we can’t, as they say, deliver all things to all people. We should pick our battles.

Tips from Poynter, day two

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Four neat things I learned today:

1) The Roanoke Times has a kick-ass javascript bug above every story, popping up options to email the story or post it to various aggregators. Geek cred for including ma.gnolia.com. Just one problem: to the reader, del.icio.us and ma.gnolia aren’t “sharing” services. They’re storing services. Sharing is how we dream of using them, but that isn’t their primary value to readers.

2) Online purchasing correlates to wealth and broadband; not so much to age.

3) Guidelines for user-content submissions should be written aspirationally: “we will do our best to.” Laying this out may actually help us in libel cases, since their very existence helps verify our regard for the truth, etc.

4) Soundslides is apparently everybody’s favorite $40 slideshow editing app. Two problems: it outputs in Flash and only runs on Macs.

Poynter, day one: Bundling and portals

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

The biggest question I have about the local news business is the extent to which we can preserve the bundles that have worked so well with our print product. For example: Jane buys the Longview newspaper for its real estate ads. Jim for its movie times. Julia for its op-ed page.

Between them, Jane and Jim subsidize Julia’s op-ed page, and vice versa, keeping the quality on all three high even when one goes through a slack period. This has always been the case. See what I mean?

Offering and promoting RSS will surely accelerate the destruction of our portal. But can unbundling be slowed? Stopped? Nope, says Jay Small, one of Poynter’s teachers this week:

“The new newspaper.com should therefore be maybe 50 different products, instead of one bundle. And even if you lump all 50 together, they shouldn’t combine and bake up into what we know as a newspaper.

“Which 50 products make sense? Ah, if I knew that, I’d have them out there already. The one thing I know is the same 50 won’t work in every newspaper market. And we better get started figuring out which 50 we need, one or two at a time.”

I’m sure we’ll return to this issue soon.

~~~

In related news, Jupiter Research found that most young folks start looking for news from portals like Yahoo. (Tx Will Sullivan.)

Poynter, day one: The dangers of print-bashing

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

It’s too easy, at geeky powows like this one, to merely nod solemnly to each other about the death of print. I don’t mean to say we should be blindly optimistic — just that over-the-top pessimism breeds complacency. We online news folks can’t afford to get all The Day After Tomorrow with our Cassandra duties. Two such cases:

1) For all their faults, today’s print newspapers remain the most successful business model the industry has ever produced. It’s nothing to be abandoned wholesale. (More on this in the next post.)

2) Even more importantly, we should never say “Look, the Web, unlike print, shows high approval ratings among youngsters! Let us therefore expect future profit from our Web site!” Platform isn’t the issue — features are. The next generation of readers is not lured to their desktops by the glow of the cathode rays or the comfort of the chairs involved. They’re going to the Internet for its features: timeliness, personalization and interaction. If newspapers want to reap the benefits of young folks’ love for the Web, they need to start delivering content in Webby ways, not print ones.

It’s not a long list: hyperlinks, multimedia, social interaction, customization, searchability. (Right around the corner: portability.) Online news people absolutely need to push tbese basic Web concepts onto their sites. If they don’t, newspaper Web sites aren’t going to last a day longer than their parent papers.

As the New York Times reminded us last month, reproducing your full print product on the Web is pointless if it’s the same as paper. I’d rather have the newsprint between my fingers, thanks.

Tips from Poynter: Day One

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Three short things I learned in my first evening at Poynter’s seminar for Online News Managers.

1) Boston.com’s forum moderators have a “bozo button” at their disposal. Once they hit it, a forum troll who they’ve marked as a “bozo” continues to see his posts appearing on the site — but nobody else sees them. Mitigates the threat of re-registration by banned users. Dirty. Genius.

2) Local TV sites get a big traffic jump at lunchtime, because people at work can get away with (or justify) watching video over the lunch hour.

3) Generally, the percentage breakdown of technology adopters is as follows (not cumulative): 2.5 percent innovators (e.g. RSS); 13.5 percent early adopters (e.g. blog readers); 34 percent early majority (i.e. broadband subscribers); 34 percent late majority (i.e. Internet users); 16 percent laggards (i.e. your aunt Susan). But: let’s not forget the wealth that drives all these differences, eh? Nobody who cares about universal access to technology drives onward on the assumption that everybody will eventually follow.