News Leadership 3.0

July 05, 2009

For journalism: More learning, less protectionism

Links: Three recommended posts to help journalists get up to speed on where the Web is going and why they’re really at risk of being left behind

It’s been one of those weeks when the gap between Old Journalism and New Internet seemed to widen by the hour
I empathize with people in traditional newsrooms who are watching their work spin freely out over the Internet while their cash-strapped owners resort to layoffs and furloughs. I am frustrated that the self-reinforcing culture of many newsrooms prevents smart, dedicated journalists from quickly understanding and embracing a new world of news and information.
I respect new media journalists and entrepreneurs who are justifiably impatient and frustrated when they hear journalists proposing protectionist ideas that just won’t work in today’s Web economy. These folks have moved on, and that has opened the way for them to innovate.
I worry that traditional journalists spend so much time mourning their losses that they will never catch up to a dynamic Web that is changing every day.
In the interest of speeding along the education, I want to suggest three short posts that are well worth reading.
Fatal Assumptions” from Steve Yelvington knocks down a recent American Press Institute report that suggested traditional publishers have a lot more control over the marketplace that seems realistic. In “Before journalists go to far in lobbying Congress, they might want to do some research,” John Temple dissects the idea that limiting copyright laws might help save newspapers.
Yelvington and Temple, both of whom have spent their careers in the newspaper industry, explain why there’s no going back.
As Temple wrote: “... newspapers have to find ways to grow new sources of revenue, not further isolate themselves with rearguard actions designed to protect their ‘franchise.’ “
The third post also comes from a newspaper editor, Jeff Sonderman, and it looks ahead to a very different future that is almost upon us. In “Five trends that will reinvent our news system in five years,” Sonderman describes where people are going to be on the Internet, and it’s probably not to your news site. Read him and think about how your journalism is going to meet these people when they get here.

June 21, 2009

Guardian to users: Help us investigate

The British news site asks its users to help it examine thousands upon thousands of pages of expense reports of members of Parliament.

The Guardian is conducting a massive crowdsourcing experiment that invites users to help it investigate nearly a half million pages of expense reports and documentation submitted by members of the British Parliament.

The instructions are simple:

You’re amply justifying our hope that many hands can make light work of the thousands of documents released by Parliament in relation to MPs’ expenses. We, and others - perhaps you? - are still using these tools to review each document, decide whether it contains interesting information, and extract the key facts.

Some pages will be covering letters, or claim forms for office stationery. But somewhere in here is the receipt for a duck island. And who knows what else may turn up. If you find something which you think needs further attention, simply hit the button marked “investigate this!” and we’ll take a closer look.

How to get involved:

Step 1: Find a document
Step 2: Decide what kind of thing it is and whether it’s interesting
Step 3: Copy out any individual entries
Step 4: Make any specific observations about why a claim deserves further scrutiny

Examples of things to look out for: food bills, repeated claims for less than 250 (the limit for claims not backed up by a receipt), and rejected claims”

And the results are starting to show. Readers who combed through nearly 100,000 of 457153 pages of documents in the first two days of the experiment were turning up numerous questionable expenses or documentation.

The effort may not turn up any major fraud. But it’s a great way to engage a community as watchdogs and to increase awareness of how lawmakers spend public money. I bet the MPs will be more careful with their expenses if they know someone will actually look at them - and be able to post about them on the Web.

Could this be a model for local news organizations in the United States? Government expense reports, bids and contracts, and political contributions all seem ripe for crowdsourced scrutiny. The key may be to find a way to engage people with limited time in something that will end up worthwhile.

What’s your idea for a crowdsourced investigation in your community? 

June 17, 2009

A new revenue agenda for news organizations

Paul Gillin urges news organizations to re-invent their business model by becoming more service-oriented, seeking more small, local advertising accounts, and changing the game on Craigslist

Paul Gillin provided a hopeful - and challenging - revenue agenda for money-starved news organizations during his KDMC/NewsU Webinar “New Revenue for News Organizations.”

It is hopeful because Gillin believes local news organizations can use their local ties and expertise to serve residents and businesses and get paid for services.

It is challenging because news organizations must first give up the notion that advertising will come back in a big way or that they can charge for non-specialized content that’s available for free.

People who ask how to monetize their Web sites need to change their approach, he said. “Your opportunity really is monetizing your audience, monetizing your brand.”

Here’s a pdf of Paul’s presentation slides. A replay of his presentation, including audio, will be posted at NewsU by the end of the week and I will add the link to this post. UPDATE: Webinar replay ($24.95 at NewsU).

Focus advertising efforts on small, local accounts

The advertising market has become more efficient with the Internet and institutions that relied on inefficient mass advertising are hurting because of that.

“The advertising world will never be the same again,” Gillin said. “The question is not ‘How do we get it back?’ It’s not coming back. The question is how do we change the model?”

News organizations can better serve a $25 billion local advertising market that relies heavily on primitive means such as Yellow Pages advertising, signage and fliers. “Whole classes of business are not now effectively reaching their customers and need help in advertising more efficiently,” Gillin said.

“You’ve got to change your sales model away from large national contracts towards much smaller but more numerous local contracts. I’m not saying this is easy but this is where the opportunity appears to be right now.”

Do more than Craigslist with classifieds

Gillin cited the work of Reinventing Classifieds, saying news organizations cannot beat Craigslist at its game, but it can reinvent classifieds to provide more services than Craigslist.

For example, Craigslist does not enable users to compare offerings side by side or to rate products. It also doesn’t offer customers advice on effective advertising and marketing.

“Craigslist is not the be all and end all of classified advertising. I think there’s a lot Craigslist doesn’t do very well. So you can tap into classified with an eye to Craigslist’s weaknesses.”

Diversify the revenue stream by taking a service approach

Gillin says opportunity also lies in developing relationships with local consumers and businesses and figuring out how to save them time and money.

That might mean helping businesses organize and market events to sell their products, facilitating transactions (such as ticket sales) in exchange for a cut of the transaction, developing databases that save users time and money when they make consumer decisions such as buying a house in the local market.

News organizations also might offer memberships that entitle members special access to events and services.

If consumers are unlikely to pay for comment, they will pay for value-added information, Gillin said. That’s why the Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports and Cooks Illustrated can charge - they save people significant time, energy and cost to research issues that are important to them.
Consumers will only pay for content with a “high level of perceived value.  You can’t sell subscriptions to a commodity” that is widely available and often free.

June 06, 2009

Be specific. Prioritize. Measure

At KDMC workshop for ethnic media leaders, USC/Annenberg journalism professor Dana Chinn advises editors to focus on specific audiences in developing new products

Dana Chinn presented ideas for identifying key audiences and missions for serving them online or in print at KDMC’s two-day workshop for leaders of ethnic media organizations this weekend in Atlanta, “Transforming Ethnic News Organizations for the Digital Now.”

“Focus on one audience and be as specific as you can,” Chinn advises.

Here is Chinn’s guide for planning a product for specific audiences:

1. Which online audiences do you need? Want?

2. OF those audience, which ONE audience is the mos urgent to address online?  Is it:
- an audience you need but you’re losing in either print or online?
- an audience you don’t have but which is essential for your survival?

3. What will make a significant difference with this audience? Is It”
-a change in your current online produce?
- a new online product

I like this list because it forces editors to set priorities. There are a lot of great ideas out there. But connecting the best idea to the most critical audience sets the news organization up to be able to measure very specific results and see what’s working (or not).

As for what to measure, Chinn says unique visitor counts are unreliable (after all, a visitor is a computer not a person). She advises watching trend lines rather than fixating on the numbers and tracking weekly, not daily, uniques.

Chinn advises using measures that track engagement, typically ratios that show how people are using the site:
- Visits per unique visitor. Do weekly visits correspond to the number of times weekly you update the site? Are you updating a lot more than visitors are coming to the site (say daily updates for people who tend to visit twice a week?)
- Page views per weekly unique visitors. When they are coming to your site, are they really engaging with the content? Chinn cites an example of 3.8 page views fora daily newspaper and says that seems low. On the other hand, if the page view number is very high, it could indicate visitors are having trouble finding what they want.
- Bounce rate of top entry page, usually the home. What percentage of visitors land on the home page and then leave. Even with a high number of visitors, a high bounce rate spells problems.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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