Archive for April, 2011

Buried in the annual Pulitzer Prize ritual last week was the little-noticed fact that no award was given in the “Breaking News” category. None of the 37 entries were deemed exceptional enough.

Last year’s winner, the Seattle Times, used multiple platforms to report the breaking news about the tragic killings of four policemen. The Pulitzer judges have begun to acknowledge the fact that breaking news now happens on multiple platforms, with the printed version being the least important. Sadly, not enough newspapers felt they had demonstrated the kind of breadth of coverage on breaking news events that would be worthy of a breaking news prize.

This raises yet another serious concern about where the newspaper industry is heading. Newspaper companies, in order to stay relevant and stay in business, need to remain the organizations that bring the news to the public, no matter what the platform. The print component of that mix will continue to drop as more and more digital platforms are created, and more and more people use those platforms to consume timely news and information they want.

The first reaction of any newspaper to breaking news needs to be how can it inform the most people of this new in the shortest time and add the most context and perspective at the same time. It’s that initial hunger to inform the public that every newspaperman was born with that has to be nurtured. The only difference is there are new and better ways to tell stories, and the public is figuring that out, too. To cede the digital platforms to amateurs and start ups is to ignore the audience you have served so well in the past.

That means giving news to your customers in the form they want it, not necessarily the most convenient way for the newspaper to deliver it. Newspaper companies may own presses that you have to pay to support, and they may own trucks that deliver those papers, but that doesn’t mean that a printed paper delivered to a home or newsstand still represents the best way to transmit news.

But what is the same is the need to help people understand what is happening and why it is important. Someone still must report the events as they unfold AND enlighten people to the importance and value of that information on a continuing basis. Even in a rapidly changing digital world, newspapers had a big jump on any competition because they still employ the most people who are trained to gather and evaluate information. Unfortunately, those people were also trained to tell those stories on a newspaper’s schedule. And the public has quickly been trained to get their news differently, while the industry has been slow to train the storytellers in these new technologies.

Gradually the news industry will see non-print publishers stepping up, as Pro Publica did this year, and winning the highest awards. The Pro Publica award this year was for the best national reporting, not best national reporting by a digital organization. If the newspaper industry gives up on breaking news, they should just close their doors. They need to jump on stories and get them out there on every platform as fast as anyone else. They need to curate breaking news content in real-time. They can’t do it by cutting back on the the people needed to gather and disseminate the news.

When the Japanese earthquake happened a few weeks back, I learned about it first on twitter. My immediate reaction was to go to half a dozen trusted news sites. The first five didn’t have a word on their front pages and the sixth had a bulletin across the top of their page. I went back to twitter and there were thousands of tweets pouring in from all over the world, including the earthquake regions.
Still, I craved some filter that would help me put it in perspective.

News companies have to provide that perspective, and editorial intelligence. It is what separates them from amateurs who are blindly passing along information. As technology reduces the cost of transmitting information, the cost of a well-trained, talented workforce will and should become a larger portion of any news company’s budget.

It should be no surprise that doing their job well is going to be hard work and require training and investment. That hasn’t changed. Great journalism can and will happen. It remains to be seen if the existing newspaper industry will figure out that it has to follow the news, not try to force it into an outmoded print model.

Online Advertising got back on track in 2010, showing 15% growth to $26 billion. The industry shot past newspapers to become the second largest ad medium, behind only television. Of equal significance is the fact that display advertising grew as a percentage of online, taking share from search, which remains the largest form of digital advertising, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau.

The news is good for Digital Publishers. It appears 2009, the first down year in advertising for the industry, was a recession-driven outlier, and the 2010 growth brought the industry back to where it would have been had there been no recession. The largest categories of advertisers remain Retail, Telcom, Financial Services and Auto.

Not surprisingly, performance based advertising grew as a share of overall, with cpm-based pricing dropping from 37% to 33% of all advertising. Internet advertisers continue to gravitate toward measurable success.

The Bloomberg Businessweek + app, which launched today, starts off by showing me a fever bar that tells me how much of the issue is loaded. Feels like a common courtesy, but so many apps, including native apps like THE DAILY, do NOT tell you where you stand in the loading process. And we all know that the lack of knowledge breeds the assumption that the worst case is true.

So, it takes some time, but I can see the end and will wait for it. And there are basic elements of the new digital landscape, like changing the type size or searching through text or even selecting specific text.

The design seems more native to the IPad. You can read related content at the touch of a button. Navigation is simple and intuitive. You can read the text on any page it brings up. One of the frustrations with the “wheel” that THE DAILY has, is that you can’t really ready any of the content from the wheel, so it’s hard to decide what page to select. Here the navigation is easy, intuitive and content-driven.

Also, section “fronts” had indexes of stories as well as visuals, making them more functional than just “covers”. And, Businessweek has made a deal with the devil, Steve Jobs, and will be selling subscriptions to the IPad version by giving Apple its 30%.

The content fits the medium well, too. It’s magazine content that adds to ongoing stories and looks ahead, but is tightly written. It’s also well indexed. They have a cool section that is part of Bloomberg’s coverage of government called the BGOV Insider that projects interesting ideas around government activity, like changes in the Tax Code. It covers discussion and adds to it.

On the downside, some images didn’t load very quickly, or at all. But I liked how it went back to the page I was on when I shut it down before.

All-in-all, a great start, giving me renewed optimist about media’s ability to learn how to exploit the new platforms.

The Knight Foundation has issued a call to all philanthropic foundations to seriously consider funding efforts to preserver quality journalism and the development of media skills in the new digital frontier. The goal is to get a wider range of funders involved in supporting media and journalism projects, which Knight believes can increase the number of informed citizens and advocates for change.

The foundation has produced a guide to help potential funders to understand how they can get involved in saving the fourth estate.

But there are other reasons for foundations to support the development of digital media initiatives. In the future, every company has to become more of a media company. Now that they can be in much more direct touch with their customers, due to the growth of social media and digital platforms that allow everyone access to much more information, companies are finding that they need to understand how to communicate with their constituencies.

It’s no longer enough for businesses or industries to broadcast information to their customers, partners and even employees via media outlets, press releases and advertising. Those are traditionally one-way communications accomplished through outside media. Today, your constituents require a conversation. Information now STARTS to flow when it’s first posted or offered. Comments, responses, reactions, postings are all part of the ecosystem. Non-Media companies now need people with sophisticated media and communications skills. Those people need to be trained in those skills and need to embrace and understand what they do and what journalism does so they can help the company, or industry, communicate with and react to both direct contact with people and journalistic coverage.

The Knight foundation, the preeminent funder of journalism projects in the United States, is offering to help other foundations understand how to best look at media projects:

“In the digital age, you have plenty of options. Many do not require large dollar investments. You can fund the efforts of existing media or you can develop your own initiatives. You can work with partners to increase the reach of your efforts or you can create independent organizations. You can build an information component into an initiative you’re already funding or you can research information needs in your community to make your grant making more strategic.”

Small and Local businesses are 5.1% more confident about their business climate than last year, according the The MerchantCircle Merchant Confidence Index (MCI), reports the Center for Media Research. The confidence comes from expectations from more than half of those surveyed (57%) that sales will be improving over the next three months.

In an interesting finding. 70% of these businesses report using Facebook to market their businesses, making the Social Network the most used channel for marketing. Google and LinkedIn are next.

The Tulsa (Oklahoma) World kicked off it’s pay wall yesterday, and according to Media Newsletter NewsInc. and the web site BayCitizen.org, the San Francisco Chronicle may not be far behind. The Tulsa paper has installed a similar wall to the NY Times, with the public getting ten stories a month for free before staring at the wall.

Reports say that the Chronicle will try a different method, putting half its SFGate.com content behind a pay wall, or in an IPad App. That would appear to be a riskier strategy, but hopefully it will mean the end of print stories that are not available on the web at all, and labeled as such.