Relevance is mandatory, so pick a niche

Written by Michael on July 31st, 2009

First in a series.

Here’s one of my four core principles for today’s media market: these days, relevance is mandatory.

I’m not talking about some of your content. I’m talking about all of your content.

If you’re not scared yet, you should be.

Yesterday, distribution costs were high, which made information scarce. The only way to distribute information was to spend lots of capital on a printing press or a broadcast tower. The only way to make this investment pay off was to make everyone interested in your content.

There’s more »


Four principles, four commandments

Written by Michael on July 31st, 2009

Preview of a series.

Your startup will only thrive if things are changing; if nothing’s been changing, somebody already tried it. So, how is today’s news market different from yesterday’s?

Here are four principles for today’s media market, each of them with a commandment for aspiring entrepreneurs to keep in mind. They’re the guiding assumptions of this blog.

I’ll discuss each in a coming series of posts, and each of these will eventually get a landing page of its own that includes the latest news on the subject.


The four kinds of non-catastrophic breaking news, and why social media aren’t changing them

Written by Michael on July 27th, 2009

floodI’m a city boy. I love crowds. I believe in crowds.

But let’s get serious about the usefulness of crowdsourced hard-news reporting at the local level.

Every example of how Twitter, etc., is theoretically changing journalism seems to rely on extremely unusual tragedies, disasters or sensations.

I don’t know about your hometown paper, but in the one I work for, almost all of what you’d call “breaking news” (aside from the sports and arts coverage) falls into one of four areas:

There’s more »


Two kinds of products that rely on people's flaws

Written by Michael on July 5th, 2009

Here’s a distinction worth understanding:

a) Products that rely on the idea that people will simply be too dumb to figure out an alternative. These products rely only on informational barriers: once you know the better way to do things, it’s no trouble to do things the better way.

Like a car mechanic who preys on ignorance in order to sell more air filters, these products breed resentment.


b) Products that rely on the idea that people don’t have the time or effort to pursue an alternative. These products rely on procedural barriers: even if you spent the time to figure out an alternative, you’d need to alter your behavior to take advantage of it.

Like a car mechanic who pokes around in earnest for possible mechanical problems you haven’t yet noticed, these products breed loyalty.


Summer job to save the environment

Written by Michael on June 11th, 2009

Exciting news: I’ve been asked (okay, I basically groveled, but they are actually paying me) to cover local-news startups this summer for one of my favorite blogs, Josh Benton’s ridiculously results-oriented Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation.

A few other part-time interns and I should each be posting once a week.

I expect this gig to consume most of my creative energy through September, but I’ll be cross-posting here each week to add a few reflections on my reported pieces.

If you have any suggestions of startups, startup plans or startup trends that need covering, I’ll be scrambling for good ideas, so please shoot an email to mike (dot) andersen (at) Gmail or leave a comment below.


Disprove this

Written by Michael on May 12th, 2009

Here’s a brief proposition I’d be curious to see contradicted:

The common factor among all profitable journalism startups in the last seven years is not Web distribution, user interaction, worse content, better content, more content, less content, paid content or free content. The common factor is a narrow audience.


In which hog fuel demonstrates that paid content has potential

Written by Michael on May 1st, 2009

Here’s the best case against paid news content. It’s two sentences long:

We tried that. It didn’t work.

But there’s a powerful rebuttal to that case, one that grizzled online-news veterans (like my man Steve Yelvington, linked above) miss: The economics have changed since last time.

No, consumer desires haven’t changed since 1996. Sorry, Al, they wouldn’t pay for traditional newspaper content online then, and they won’t now. But local media incentives have changed since 1996.

The real question: whether those incentives have changed enough to force newspapers to make the crucial shift that could keep them alive — a shift to niche products.

If you want to understand how newspaper incentives have changed, you need to understand the following short story from the great Northwest.

It’s a story about hog fuel.

There’s more »


It's a manifesto

Written by Michael on April 23rd, 2009

It’s been the formula embraced by every half-crazy, screw-the-system dreamer in history, from Henry Thoreau to Jerry Maguire:

Do less, better.

And for journalists, it’s the way of the future. It’s exactly what consumers are demanding.

How cool is that?


Online news should be replayable

Written by Michael on April 17th, 2009

Follow-up thought on yesterday’s iTunes for news defense: When analysts say things like:

Newspaper content is ephemeral by nature … It isn’t the same as downloading a song and keeping it and replaying it. It loses its value almost instantaneously.

…the speaker is not describing a problem with iTunes. She’s describing a problem with the way news is traditionally presented.

It’s a problem that can be solved.

Update 7/26: Jackie Hai makes a similar point, except phrased better and with extra insights. Read it.


Dept. of mythbusting: Money can indeed be exchanged for goods and services

Written by Michael on April 16th, 2009

Is an iTunes for news possible? The cool kids all say no.

They’re wrong.

A year ago — three months ago! — I would have been the last person to make a case for paid content. But I’ve been coming around, and not for the reasons you think.

It’s not because I think newspapers can ever turn back the clock or put the news genie back in the bottle. They can’t. From now on, most content will always cost $0.00.

But not all content will be free, because money is not the only cost consumers must pay to read content. Gathering information — even free information — requires time, effort and knowledge: time to find it, effort to determine whether content is reliable, and knowledge of what content does or doesn’t exist.

If a product can save its readers enough time, effort or knowledge, they’ll pay money for it.

This isn’t to say that newspaper Web sites in their current form can save people enough time, effort or knowledge to be worth money.

My point is: the problem here isn’t the price.

It’s the product.

(photo courtesy Flickr user Roby72)