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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)

Very small advertising opportunities are literally not worth advertisers’ time

Monday, November 28th, 2011

…it doesn’t matter how clever the opportunities are.

This is a simple point about the economics of local advertising, but it’s very important. I wish I’d understood it two years ago.

When I started a publishing business, I was told that you should generally not sell ad contracts for less than $100. At the time, I thought that was because ad salespeople priced their time more highly than I was willing to, and that I could bootstrap my way up by underpricing my time, like any respectable scab.

But here’s the thing: My time is only half of what’s at stake. The actual reason you shouldn’t sell for less than $100 is that if your product is worth less than $100, it will not be rational for advertisers to spend time buying your product.

I’m talking about the time required to evaluate an advertising opportunity, to run it past business partners, to obtain and transmit the graphical files, to settle on the message, to write the copy. These tasks sound piddly because they are. They’re obnoxious and time-consuming. That means that no business owner is going to do them unless there’s more than $100 in value at stake.

It doesn’t matter if the advertiser has no affordable alternatives. It doesn’t matter how great your product is. You know your product is great, but your advertiser doesn’t, and your advertisers have the right to evaluate your product. If you’ve designed a product that is so small that evaluating its worth is a losing proposition, then you have just deprived your advertiser of his or her rights.

Now, I’m not arguing that you should overprice your product. I’m arguing that you should make a product that’s worth a decent price.

Simply thinking smaller than everybody else isn’t going to work.

(Creative Commons stopwatch photo by purplemattfish.)

The secret to survival

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

…is that you’re not going to. You can only have a lot of kids and hope one of them is the right one.

That’s probably the best point I managed to make about the news business at Saturday’s Digital Journalism Portland conference. It was an honor to share a panel with Robert Wagner of and Barry Johnson of Oregon Arts Watch, talking about quitting our day jobs to have entrepreneurial babies.

The talking doesn’t really start until 1:00; my first bit is at 2:20, but if you’re watching you shouldn’t miss Barry and Rob, who are much more experienced in this stuff than I am, or moderator Melissa Chavez of to-be-launched Sexistential Magazine, who did a ton of advance work that clearly paid off.

The conference is a project of the great Abraham Hyatt, with video provided by the skills of Dr. Normal and Eitan Tsur.

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.

Let readers see (and edit) their own data

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Work’s been heavy lately. Tomorrow, a post on triaging limited programming resources. (As if there’s some other kind…) Today, a quick suggestion for winning trust: let readers access their own usage data.

Job one, of course, is to start collecting readers’ usage data. Seriously. Let readers know about it, tell them how they’ll benefit, let them opt in or out, but start it right away and do it any way you can.

Job two is inspired by this Fredshouse brainstorm (courtesy Lifehacker): Google should create a digital privacy tool for all its users that would let them view, delete and set expiration dates for all data that’s collected about them.

We should do that, too.

Newspapers should be classifieds clearinghouses

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

Everybody and his brother’s startup has a free classified service these days. Even if you’re ignoring all but the bigger players — Craigslist, Base, Edgeio, eBay — who can keep track?

Hint: they’re black and white and read in large but ever-decreasing quantities.

For the moment, newspapers in the smallest markets should probably still be trying to minimize the content that leaks onto competitors’ sites. But in mid-size markets (and, before long, in the smaller ones) papers can keep offering value to classified advertisers by offering a service the big boys don’t: syndication of your ad throughout the Internet. Anybody who pays for a classified should get it listed on all the free sites in addition to the print edition and the newspaper’s Web site.

Three startups called Mpire, vFlyer and Postlets are trying to make this service into an entire business, the
New York Times reports today. (While they’re at it, they check your spelling and suggest an effective layout.)

It’s not clear whether these guys are going to make money for such a relatively simple service. But if newspapers can seed their ads into both the Web-savvy and Web-illiterate markets, they’ll be saving their clients a lot of time.

No time for the staff to do all these postings, you say? Well, I happen to know of three fledgling Web sites who might make great partners for your classified department…

A subscription model that won't compete with print: the blindspot

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

Tear down the wall? At the Times, too early to say. But in the next few years, small papers should build their subscription strategy around this question: what on the Web is a substitute for print, and what’s not?

A model I like, but have never seen, is actually the inverse of the most common one. Instead of a permanent archive wall, it’s an ever-advancing blindspot.

For the next ten-to-15 years or so — until computers become almost as portable/cheap/comfortable as newspapers, that is — small newspapers should prioritize new editorial Web features with the following checklist:

1) Can it be done with information we already collect?
2) If not, can it be done with information whose collection is easily automated? (either through user contribution or computer algorithm)
3) Can it be presented in a way that is only possible or convenient online, so as to avoid substituting for the print product?

From this angle, charging for archives looks like the dumbest possible formula. We’ve all got colossal electronic archives. All we need to make them useful is a good search feature. And here’s the thing: archives don’t substitute for print at all. What subscriber saves two-week old newspapers for use as reference material? Online archives only add value. A free, well-ordered archive for a local newspaper would take it a long way toward its eventual goal: becoming the primary information site for its community.

Yesterday’s news is different. In most cities, you can get yesterday for 50 cents in the newspaper, or on the Web for free. Print and Web become substitute products — and get moreso with every redesign.

Okay, what about today’s news? I lean toward the Spokane model — breaking news and comment should be free. They’re dynamic. They can’t be done in print. They’re dealing with radio and TV competitors.

You can see by now what this all means: the sensible place for a subscription requirement is content from, say, the last three days. Farther back than that, it should all be free again.

I’ve never seen it done. I’d love to hear why not.

(Also: Yes, yes, I know, I should be preparing and posting my own archive of three-quarters-written entries instead of making a new one. Sorry, chum.)

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 Just one problem: to the reader, 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.

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)’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.

Practical advice from APME

Monday, April 17th, 2006

The other day, the Associated Press Managing Editors put out a practical, accessible cluster of pieces about newspaper Web sites. I especially like the ones about putting your Web site on the offensive and the strong competition to come. More below the fold.

The first advises that newspaper sites:
1) Radically simplify their front-door pages. “Count the links. You probably have 200 or more. It’s insane, stupid and lazy. On the web, simplicity sells.”
2) Load the site with photos and videos.
3) Let visitors customize.
4) Allow user contributions, but use a heavy-ish hand in editing them.
5) Sometimes, be unpredictable and funny. Change the front-door layout to reflect the news.

I do have qualms with some of these (customization of news content should be done only with a reader’s permission; changing home-page layouts should only be done by people who really know what they’re doing, usability-wise).

The second lists five sorts of competitors that local papers will face for the first time in the next few years, thanks to users’ migration onto the Web:

1) Local broadcast outlets.
2) Big national portals, scaling down to our level.
3) Hyperlocal, user-generated startups, such as Backfence. “They are getting big venture money and we are their prime targets. … Imagine what will happen when they partner up with cable networks or local weeklies or phone directories or someone else.”
4) Local chambers of commerce and the like, creating free, functional search sites. (Good call, man, good call.)
5) Just about anybody with a server, a keyboard, and a lack of caution about libel suits.

The second list, really, is the driving force for the first. Big-city editors are still trying to get used to the end of their monopoly. Small papers need to prepare for competition faster than the big ones did.

(Hat tip: