Trouble in the Newspaper Biz

The semester is finally over, and there are a slew of articles that I wanted to comment on. We all know that the news business is in trouble, trying to remake itself in this online world (welcome to 1996, news business) and figuring out ways it can stay profitable with new business models.  Mark Glaser of Media Shift presented a comprehensive article entitled “Your Guide to Alternative Business Models for Newspapers,” including some models that are “borrowed from other types of media.” I think that’s key. It’s important to get ideas from innovators in other fields. He also states that there won’t be a “silver bullet,” another thing that I think is important, because there will be many ways to make money online, not just one recipe for success. Here are the models he discussed: blog networks – aggregate blogs of staffers and generate more page views and run targeted ads that are focused on particular topics; classified networks – need to offer more services, super-charge listings and add extras galore to entice people back to pay; crowdfunding - have audience make payments to support a particular beat or project, the way bloggers get support from their audience; customized papers – lots of organizations do custom publishing of print products, use print for what it is good for, making beautiful specialized publications (I like the idea of making a platform for users to make their own ad-based publications); hyperlocal ads – must put staffers in neighborhoods and encourage conversation to be successful; local portal – newspapers create local portals for info and entertainment (“need to become the trusted source of listings in a community”);  multimedia ads – run ads on audio and video content;  niche sites – create sites for moms, etc. can bring new audiences online, advertise in these niches; non-profit – support local journalism with grants, donations and sponsorships, Poynter has done this with the St. Petersburg Times, NPR, PBS; paid content - charge for premium, very specialized content, let a few pay for the many.

This all reminds me of Chris Anderson’s Free article in Wired earlier this year (March 08), working on an upcoming book. Check out  his blog at www.thelongtail.com (his earlier ground-breaking book is The Long Tail).  The Web provides a unique scale that allows organizations to give certain things away for free, build a community around that, and then charge for other things.  In a recent issue of Wired, Clive Thompson in “How T-Shirts Keep Online Content Free” mentioned local (right here in Austin) Burnie Burns of Red vs. Blue fame and how they were able to give away their hilarious Halo-based Webisodes and support themselves by selling T-shirts with the funny quotes on them. Burnie got the idea of community, create a fanatical one and then sell them things.

Very related to this, the Bivings Group came out with a report entitled “The Use of the Internet by America’s Largest Newspapers.” The study shows that many newspapers are experimenting with user-generated content (58% up from 24% in 2007) mostly photos and about 10% were providing social networking tools (only 5% in 2007).  Seventy-six percent are offering Digg-like popularity views of content. Most are using contextual ads and many (43%) are using interstitial ads (ads displayed before you can get content).  All newspapers sites surveyed offered RSS feeds of their content. The number of sites requiring registration decreased. Not surprised.  I also go somewhere else if I have to register for any basic content. Tech Crunch provides a synopsis with graphs.

Was following, with great interest,  on Twitter (search #kdmc) the work at the Knight Center for Digital Media this week. They were having their Technology Tools workshop, and it sounded like they crammed some good info into those journalists’ heads. I was stealing ideas right and left, Widgetbox,(any widget you’d want for just about any platform)  ZeeMaps (turn a spreadsheet into a map), and all the Knight Tutorials (mashups, Google Maps, Flash Templates, Audio Recorders and more). I hope to be able to attend this workshop sometime in the future.

And, while I was on Twitter, one of the people I follow @annatauzin (former student) sought ideas for the J-Lab’s Cool Stuff page. I didn’t know about it. It’s a great page for finding examples of maps and interactives, lots on the 2008 election. It’s a great resource for class examples. Thanks Anna!

While we’re talking about Twitter, I liked Omar Gallaga’s (@omarg) post on Austin360.com about “What Not to Tweet.” As more people use Twitter, more offenses emerge.  I particularly dislike the rapid-fire tweets that Omar mentions and all the pimpin’ things that people do to promote themselves.  I had to lol when I read that Omar also dislikes anyone that has the word “maven” in their bio. Ha! I also dislike the use of private Twitter accounts, no profile, no bio, no link to personal site. Like Omar, it gives me no way to know if I should follow you.  He’s also got Twitter pet peeves that were contributed from readers.  It’s a good read.

In other online news, I thought it was interesting reading “Music Industry to Abandon Mass Suits.” Are they finally getting it that suing their customers is bad? That suing people who love their products so much that they can’t wait to get their hands on it (even illegally) was a terrible idea? The article says the industry “is searching for more effective ways to combat online music piracy.” Again, I have to say “Welcome to 1996.” It’s new approach: get ISPs to cooperate, get them to be part of the process of serving the offending customer, ask them to stop first.  The customer can get slower service or ultimately have access cut off. The music industry is like the news business. Figure out a way to create a community, which might include free music, then sell them something else, t-shirts, concert tix, exclusive content, fan club privileges … be creative. It’s a creative industry, isn’t it?

Sorry for the long post. I had a lot building up in my cue. Glad to get that off my chest. Most of these links can also be found at www.delicious.com/clroyal. Happy Holidays all!

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