Archive for the ‘Digital Media’ Category

I really loved it when Rupert Murdoch launched The Daily two years ago. I thought he picked some great executives like Jesse Angelo and Greg Clayman to build and run it, and I thought they did a great job as a news organization. But they made a single huge mistake.

They built a news operation for a platform, not for a readership.

The Daily on the day they announced they would be folding

The Daily on the day they announced they would be folding

While no one can deny that the IPad almost immediately impressed everyone as a news consumption device, there was absolutely no reason to believe that it would become the only way people would want their news. While every media business was trying to figure out how to best use the tablet as another distribution device, no one was seriously considering moving to a tablet-only service.

That’s because it was clear that this device going to be an answer, not THE answer. We are still early in this latest reinvention of storytelling. The digital platforms will clearly change habits both because they have eliminated much of the time it takes to deliver news and they provide a medium that allows the storyteller to employ virtually every format, from words to pictures, to video, to interactivity.

The news industry is learning that newsrooms of the future will no longer be built around the medium they are in (newspapers, tv, radio) but rather around the subject they are covering (New York, Financial News, Sports, Politics). These newsrooms will need the revenue from multiple channels to support themselves, and will therefore need to leverage the value of their knowledge across distribution systems.

The Daily waited much too long into it’s brief life to build distribution outside of the Tablet. The lesson for future entrepreneurs is not that the Tablet can’t supports a news business, it’s that it can’t solely support a news business and shouldn’t have to.

Even readers who loved getting their news on the tablet were not likely to have it with them at all times, or likely to prefer it at all times. And even though The Daily’s presentation on the Tablet got better and better as time went by, and was never less than impressive and even beautiful, there were just times that their readers would rather learn of breaking story on their phone because it was more convenient, or see a news video on a computer or TV screen when they were in front of one, or perhaps even read a story in a newspaper if they were sitting on a beach or hear it in a car while driving on the way home.

Serving an audience in today’s information age means you have to accept that the audience will want timely information on the best possible platform at any given time and place. The same consumer driving a car home or sitting in front of their computer at work will probably prefer a different form of communication than someone sitting on a train with their IPad on a try in front of them.

So while The Daily was perhaps the most successful demonstration of how news could be delivered over a tablet, it was, by design, totally irrelevant on every other platform. Telling everyone they HAD to view them on a Tablet was no different than a newspaper or TV news operation refusing to put its content on the web.

Today we launched the new USAToday.com.
Thank’s to the magnificent and tireless work of an army of engineers, designers, programmers, product managers, editors, etc., under the direction of Gannett Digital president David Payne, we are taking a huge step into the future, not without risk, by creating what we believe is a major step for our viewers and advertisers.
The new USAToday.com is a dramatic change for both.

For our readers and viewers it represents a significant step toward visual storytelling, but one that respects the fact that no two readers are alike, especially during times of significant technological change. We give you several options on how to view news, information, entertainment and advertising but all involve significant curation by our editorial staff, the heart and soul of the value we bring to this storytelling process. This creation is truly a collaborative work between dedicated technologists and equally dedicated journalists.

We give the reader the ability to use visuals or words in varying degrees in their consumption process. And we will do it in varying degrees. If the reader wants, for example, he or she can view each story by starting with a photograph or a video. They can even use a device we call “Cover Mode” (see the little book-like design at the top of the page) that allows them to see each story via a full-page photograph, the most dramatic use of still photography in the storytelling process we have ever seen on the Internet.

We give you the ability to view by our definition of importance or by anyone’s definition of timeliness. By merely scrolling over a visual reference to a story they can also see more text to put that story in context. And by viewing our “Right Now” column along the right side of the page, you will see relevant social media reactions to the ongoing story in real-time.
Our horizontal navigation, inspired by the growing and already massive use of tablets, allows the reader to “peruse” the sections or the stories on the site by turning pages, re-imagining the “discovery” process we so love in the print media. It allows you to be surprised by content you didn’t know existed, but to do so at your own speed, depending upon your time and inclination.

Cover View: A new way to peruse stories through their most dramatic images

The horizontal “page-turning” experience also allows our advertisers to reclaim the full-page ad they so dearly want and need. We allow those advertisers the chance to use the entire palate in whatever way they want to grab your attention, all the time giving you the same ability you had in print to turn the page. But watch out, you are going to see some wonderful ads that use dramatic visual tools from interactivity to video to draw you in.

Advertising in general has also changed in a big way on this site. Gone are the many small units that appears in different places on the page, frequently below the “fold” or unavailable until you scrolled down. We listened to our readers and our advertisers, and we have reacted by giving both a better experience. We have limited the advertisers to fewer but much more dramatic positions, giving them the same chance we are giving ourselves of telling their stories better and reaching more people with increasingly dramatic tools.

This is truly a major step into the new world of digital storytelling, one that empowers them, as storytellers with their own story to tell, to use every tool available: video, audio, text, photography, interactivity and more to tell his or her story. This is a step in the reinvention of storytelling, it’s also a step in the reinvention of how news will be created and consumed. We’re extremely excited to be part of that process.

Much more to come. Watch over the next few weeks as we roll out our new tablet and mobile apps, and if you haven’t recently, take a look at our print newspaper, too. It has also begun to embrace the strengths of a print product in today’s media mix and you will be surprised. And we are making it easier on all platforms for you to contact us. In the spirit of this new era of communications, please send us your comments, ideas and suggestion.

Now, we know we have made it.  Stephen Colbert revealed our new logo treatment to the world, in a way only he could. Turns out USA Today is his favorite newspaper, and he’s not a fan of change.  But in the end, he embraces change…..er….sort of, by using the logo itself to tell the story of how hard the USA Today  graphics department will be working to execute our “living” logo each day.

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Today we launched the “TV On The Web” section of the USA Today Life Section.  And we did so in the printed newspaper first.

Sounds a bit backwards, you say?  Actually, it’s a great example of how various forms of media can compliment each other.  In this case, print has the advantage of being an effective curator of digital content.  There is so much digital content out there that our readers and digital users appreciate our efforts to curate that content and find the best of it for them.  And print is a very effective way to display that curated list. 

By limiting our presentation to what we can fit in one section of the paper, we easily demonstrate to our readers that we have used the scarcity of space in the paper to display the best of the content we find.  On digital platforms our list could be much longer, but on paper we are forced to live within the space we have.  It’s always harder to do anything in less space, and to make the choices we have to make to choose “only the best.”  But that makes it even more valuable to the reader, who knows he or she will get a lot for the small amount of time they have to devote to see the printed list in its entirety.

Print imposed the kind of limitations that force us to work harder for the reader.  And in the end, the consumer appreciates that we put in more work to do that for them. 

It is also much easier to do something new for a print reader, because they are already looking at the page and will notice something new and different.  On a digital platform, it is harder to draw someone to anything new because they tend to go to and get the pages they know to ask for. Image

So for us at USA Today, the printed newspaper is both an editorial product and a marketing platform for the innovations we are planning across all of our platforms.   We sell that platform to other advertisers, so it should come as no surprise that we can use it effectively ourselves to prove its continuing value.

Congrats to the team for getting our new TV on the Web listings launched today, along with the fantastic coverage of Web-based video we are launching in the Life Section news columns (See today’s story on Tom Hanks and Jerry Seinfeld’s efforts to create online-only TV shows). 

TV on the Web is getting big and deserves the kind of coverage we normally give to traditional television.  How cool is it that we launch that coverage in a newspaper!

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Well it’s been two years and three IPads, so its a good time to step back and look at how my life as a heavy consumer of news has changed.

Much has changed.  But there is no question that I have come to use both the IPad and IPhone for a great deal of news consumption, though I still largely depend on traditional brands.  The latest IPad and IPhone have been particularly good to the news companies that embrace the tablet and mobile formats.  The speed of downloads has improved dramatically,  and the quality of video continues to improve.  And, finally, advertisers are at least trying the platforms.

Let me start with the The Daily, the first IPad native news business.  I use them more today than I did in the past.  The faster download times, the far better indexing and  briefing features and the quality of the journalism  have all made a difference, and as always, the application makes terrific use of the IPad’s true value to display beautiful photography.  It’s slickness still makes it hard for me to grasp how timely the information is — it’s almost too pretty to make you believe it’s very current — but that may just be my problem associating beautiful design with magazine journalism.  There isn’t enough video or interactive storytelling to make this a total home run yet, and too much of the video that is there  is a talking head.  I am a paid subscriber, but I don’t have the sense of urgency that I must have this product.  It think still needs some defining and exclusive content. I do love the new “Breaking News Alert” (see left) that blasted in front of the cover when the news of a foiled Al Qaeda plot was reported.

I still use the NYPost App, after it has moved into Apple’s newsstand.  It’s easy to navigate and a terrific digital manifestation of the paper’s look, feel and content, capturing much of the personality that the defines the Post.  I have subscribed and I rarely buy or see a print edition anymore.

For the several months I have been using a terrific App called “PressReader” from Newspaper Direct, which offers access to “replica” versions of hundreds of newspapers around the world in real time.  You can, for the price of a single subscription, get all the papers you want to get on the service.  Or you can buy single newspapers when you want them.  It’s a nifty App that shows the exact newspaper that is printed, but then allows you to drill down and navigate digitally by clicking on the stories you want to read.  Hard to explain, easy to use.  I have been able to keep up with the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post,  and several other publications including some British papers, on an as-needed basis.

I still read my old standby national newspapers:  The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today via their apps.  The Times is now part of the Apple Newsstand, but to me the application, while clean, loses too much of the look and feel of the times, and just seems less urgent and complete.   Too many stories are first presented with a headline and a couple paragraphs, with no graphic stimulation.   It’s easy to use, but has no soul and I frequently miss stories that I see in the Print Edition.  I still get the NYTimes printed paper at home on the weekends, and I much prefer it.

The Wall Street Journal app is a much better translation of the newspaper and its feel.  It also gives the reader a version of the journal that is updated to the time the reader has signed on.  It’s a great mix of a daily newspaper of record and updated news since printing. There is growing use of photos and video that shows real promise.

Finally the USA Today Ipad App is also very clean.  The good and the bad news about the USA Today app is that it is a close cousin to the look of the paper.  While it captures some of the design feature of the paper, some have become tired.   The site loses a sense of urgency and  news judgement by stacking stories with essentially the same look and feel as each other.  The larger layouts in the print version of the paper are often the most attractive devices in the newspaper, and they are not translated to this platform.  Photos dominate the visuals, and the reader gets little interactive or even passive, graphic presentation that approaches what is so great about the print paper.  The page looks the same every day.  USAToday’s IPhone app is slicker and faster to use.

Broadcast news outlets have become a large part of my news consumption through digital platforms as well.  On the financial news front,  I love Marketwatch, but hate that there isn’t a better presentation of it’s news product on the IPad.  There is a data app, which was recently updated, but while it’s clean and efficient, I hate that it is a fixed horizontal app, and when my IPad is in the upright position (I have a charger that leaves it vertically on my desk) the content is sideways and useless to me.  I have the same problem with the Wall Street Journal Live App.  So I have shifted to CNBC’s RT (Real Time) App, which is easy to use, gives me the most graphic depiction of Indexes, My Stocks, News (easy and efficient access to all news) and Videos and has the added bonus of being in Real-Time, not delayed data.  And, there are much better and more timely videos, which you would expect. This is CNBC’s first major success on digital platforms.

CNN’s IPad app is very visual (It should use more words) and allows the viewer to watch CNN live.  The ABC News, NBC News and CBS News Apps are all too visual, showing photos and a few words for every story, and linking to work they have largely done on TV.  They will, someday, discover that words are also important to the storytelling process on digital platforms.

All in all, I am spending a lot more time on my IPad, including the time spent on News sites.  My habits are changing…so are everyone else’s.  Clearly the transition is taking place.  But it still feels like we have some more changes to go and some new software and hardware to lead the way.

The problem with the fight over SOPA is that no one is playing by the same rules.  In fact, there are no rules and frequently people on the same side are fighting for completely different reasons. 

In the media world, we have journalistically-minded companies who have spent a lifetime defending freedom of speech and fighting anything that seems to impair that right.   In that world such freedom overshadows the original reason for the proposed rules, which was the fact that most of those companies are losing billions of dollars because their intellectual property is being stolen and reused by others for profit.

Then we have the Googles of the world, who beat the Freedom-of-Speech drum as well, but who really are among those who have built huge businesses on the back of every content creator with little or no compensation for their content.  In their case, it’s Freedom-of-Profit and Growth that they are protecting.

Having Google out front defending the media on the SOPA issue is like having Larry Flynt be the point person defending Freedom of Speech in court.   We like what he is saying, but is he the right person to make the case around?

While this is a fight about rights for the media, for Silicon Valley its really a fight about an entirely new economic structure that tech firms have built around managing and presenting other people’s content.

The real problem is we have no standards yet to build an intelligent discussion around gray areas. Right now this has become a black and white, for or against, issue.  But like all things, there are going to be many ways to do this right and to do it wrong.  But we don’t even have fundamental building blocks in place.  We still haven’t defined, legally, what fair use is for content on the internet.  That’s something we did a long time ago for print and broadcast media.

Imagine having this fight in the print world without any existing idea of what is fair use.  None of us believe we should be able to sue someone for using a word or two that might be the same as two words in something we created last year.  But in print that doesn’t happen, because their are rules that loosely define how much of an existing work or idea you can repeat with stealing an idea or creative work.  And it’s a reasonable amount.

In television there are rules about how much video someone else can use from the creators of that video, and under what circumstances they can use it.  Beyond that, intellectual property is protected.

In both cases the industries came together and agreed on fair use.  Then  they figured out how to protect appropriate activity. 

With SOPA, the problem is everyone is shadow boxing against a massive grey cloud of “evil.”  
In the digital universe we have not brought everyone together, and we need to. It’s ridiculous to provide massive powers to shut people down when we can’t even agree on what exactly they are doing wrong.

How about as a industry, content creators of all kinds, text, video, photographic, graphic, audio, get together and come up with realistic guidelines that allow for freedom of speech and expression to grow, even around our content, and yet still make sure that those who fund the content creation itself are reimbursed appropriately for what they have given the world? Let’s try to agree on what “fair use” is before we agree on how to punish people for not being fair. 

It won’t be easy, the players in the many subsets of the content universe, music, newspapers, television all have had a hard time agreeing with each other about much simpler issues, but at least we’ll have a better idea of what we are trying to accomplish than we do now.

 

The choice of Scott Thompson is another roll of the dice by the Yahoo Board, which hasn’t been winning a lot at the craps table lately. But to be fair to Pay Pal’s extremely successful boss Scott Thompson, everyone deserves a chance to rise to the occasion,

The problem is that Yahoos board continues to see the company in their image as a technology company when it clearly has to become a media company to succeed. The last CEO was also hired for her tech creds, though shortly after arriving she admitted that her own assessment was that the company had to become a media content company. She just didn’t know how to do that.

Hopefully, Thompson will be a quick study and will learn what it takes to become a content creator. But it is a big bet, and the choice reflects a board that is still unable to see the future clearly enough to make the changes necessary. They hired one of their own, leaving the task of deciding the company’s future in the CEO with little or no help from the board.

It can be done. But it’s not easy.

A clear message that the board understood the direction the company had to take would have been to appoint a true media executive. I’m thankful that Thompson has deep consumer experience. But it remains to be seen whether or not he has the vision to become a great media executive.