Posts Tagged ‘Newspapers’

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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As newspapers continue to struggle, traditional news-aggregation sites like AOL and Yahoo are planning to produce more original content. Are they the future of journalism?

Over the past several months, as many of the traditional pillars of journalism have begun to show severe economic strain, there are new signs of a growing future for original content on online platforms.

Early Internet portals like AOL and Yahoo, after years of describing themselves as only aggregators of other sources’ content, have now changed course and begun to build what might be the next generation of journalistic powerhouses. They have aggressively moved into the media space by becoming creators of original content in areas such as politics, finance and the economy, sports, food, travel, and music.

“We intend for AOL to be the largest publisher of high-quality content in the world,” Marty Moe, senior vice president of AOL Media, told Bnet this month. “Furthermore, we are a low-cost producer of high-quality content at scale.” Moe went on to say that AOL enjoyed “structural advantages” over newspapers, magazines, and television networks and was increasingly hiring refugees who have left those places over the past 18 months.

These latest moves come against the backdrop of a deteriorating situation in the traditional media business. The future of journalistic stalwarts like the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, and even The New York Times and Washington Post, has been threatened by the dramatic increase in free and timely news and information from thousands of Web sites, including these newspapers’ own online editions. With advertising dollars shrinking, people are wondering what news outlets will replace the papers. The moves to original content from the former kings of aggregation is an encouraging sign that some companies may come up with the business model that can support serious journalism.

Yahoo’s new CEO, Carol Bartz, who came from a tech background and is an unlikely advocate of content creation, told the Times this month that she will be investing in original content in entertainment, finance, and news, in much the same way as Yahoo already has in sports. She noted to the Times that there were a lot of available, unemployed journalists out there for the picking.

Sites like Politico, The Huffington Post, and The Daily Beast are all making the same bet: that there is value in original content in addition to aggregation and community, and they are starting to build businesses around that content. In many cases, they are also betting that there is enough Web and mobile readership to support advertising models so they don’t have to charge customers directly.

But invariably, their business models will not be the same. They will vary by the type of audiences they attract, and the unique characteristics of their content. If, for example, stock-market-information sites and sports-betting sites can offer their users actionable information in real time, it’s worth real money to their readers. In fact, they would rather fewer people see that information, to increase their own chances to act on it before others do.

Other very-targeted content sites—even successful ones—are seeing original content as a way to grow their audiences. Take, for example, Creditcards.com, on whose board I used to sit. Previously, virtually all of the site’s audience used to come from people using search engines to find sites that deal with credit cards. The business’ original content has drawn more people to the site, many of whom did not expect to look for a new card until they read an article.

There are two primary reasons some of these Internet aggregators may have a leg up on finding the ultimate business model for original content: 1) They already have experience giving audiences the kind of content they want on the new digital platforms; and, 2) They don’t have to support the legacy businesses, like print or broadcast, which have huge cost structures that are becoming less efficient as their audiences splinter off and require multiple distribution systems to reach.

“Principally, we have none of the legacy costs associated with producing print publications, “ AOL’s Moe told Bnet. “For example, we don’t own printing presses, or fleets of delivery trucks. We don’t have the elaborate editorial structures geared to producing products over a printing press.”

While this is all great news for proponents of original content, it’s a shot across the bow of the existing media companies that continue to cut editorial and other content-creation assets as a way to stem losses. They are now increasingly in danger of losing their one advantage—the brand equity they have built as the “go-to” place for whatever category of content they dominate. These new players could have time to build up their reputations and take the entire business away.

The Hearst Corp. announced today that it will be the first major media company to convert a metropolitan daily newspaper into a website, and end it’s run as a printed newspaper.

When Hearst follows through on its promise to shut down the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Tuesday, it will shift to an online-only news business.

This dramatic shift could be the catalyst behind a new era in the news business. The single most important message sent by this action is that the news business has changed, and it may be possible to better serve an audience digitally than in print, and do it profitably.

Hearst believes it can serve the Seattle audience with an editorial staff of around 20 people on its website, a fraction of the number it employs on the newspaper. Which 20 they pick will have a lot to do with the ultimate success of the online venture. They will need to capture the essence of what make people read the PI, which will be a different mix than say 20 most important employees to the newspaper.

This is what entrepreneurism is all about.

But the fact is, a website can take more advantage of everything else that happens on the web and link to content from outside sources, bloggers and other publicly available sources of information, like movie listings or little league scores. Some things the paper did well can be provided on the web with little or no staff effort through links to outside sources.

The message is that Hearst executives believe they can produce the essence of what they do now—a local news product, with a personality, that offers unique, high quality content—with 20 journalists who both cover news and curate everything else on the internet to give their readers a package that gives them a sense of what is happening in their town.

The implications of this change are huge for the newspaper industry. If Hearst is right, they will prove that an online local news operation can be a good business. Even if they fail at this attempt, we will learn from their efforts. This is what entrepreneurism is all about. What makes this experiment so important is two things: 1)It’s hard to find entrepreneurism at work in traditional companies and 2) We get to find out if a traditional media print news brand is a competitive advantage in building an online news business.

We will learn if the brand equity of a respected news organization will be able to accelerate a change in reading habits among those who haven’t already shifted from print to the web for their news.

There are certain aspects of the Seattle situation that make this move easier than it might be in other cities right now. Because the PI is in a joint operating agreement with the Seattle Times, the other local daily newspaper, Hearst does not have to close down a major printing operation completely, which would be costly. The Seattle Times, which is not owned by Hearst, will continue to publish as a newspaper. In recent years, it has performed all the publishing functions for the PI.

So Hearst has a clear shot at trying this new business. The town will still have a printed newspaper from the Times, but the more than 100,000 people who got the PI each day will be sent to the Internet for their favorite columnists or writers. The newspaper world will be watching to see if the readers follow the writers.

The cost structure of this new business will be a fraction of its print ancestor. There won’t be any of those people who printed or delivered the paper, or who managed the pre-press process.

The revenues will also be a fraction of what they had in print. Internet advertising is not yet a mature business. Major advertisers don’t yet know how to advertise best on the web. While the public has shifted much of it’s time to web consumption, the advertising world has not shifted it’s spending to reach those people nearly as much.

Still, one of the main reasons the time is right to try this experiment is that print revenues are already dropping in a big way, causing many, if not most, metro dailies to be losing money.One high-ranking executive of a major metropolitan daily told me that last week’s revenues were 45% below the same week a year earlier. To make matters worse, he also said that the largest advertiser, a major retailer, now was responsible for between 15 and 20 percent of all revenues at the paper, up from below 5 percent a couple years ago. Based on what is happening in retailing, one can only speculate how worried that makes publishers.

Internet-based content businesses are considerably smaller than their existing print or broadcast ancestors, a fact that has made it difficult for major media companies to transform themselves into digital businesses. No one wants to preside over a strategy that argues that shrinking a company is the best way to survive. In the world of public companies, executives are loathe to suggest that reduced revenues are a good thing, even though the smaller businesses will soon be, or ever are, profitable and the large ones are seeing virtually all of their profits disappear.

The best and the brightest in the media industry will have to be willing to weather the pain of such shift, and still try to transition into businesses that have a future, even if they are smaller businesses today.

The media companies will be watching Seattle and the Hearst Corp. over the next few weeks, as should every journalist.

Larry Kramer is senior adviser at Polaris Venture Partners, a venture-capital firm. He served as the first president of CBS Digital Media. Prior to joining CBS, Kramer was chairman, CEO, and founder of MarketWatch Inc. Kramer spent more than 20 years as a reporter and editor at the San Francisco Examiner, the Washington Post, and the Times of Trenton.

Today’s collapse of the Rocky Mountain News has prompted the usual hysterics and hand-wringing over the death of print—but people need to get over the notion that quality news only comes on paper.

OK, so now it has begun. The Rocky Mountain News, Denver’s 150-year-old daily newspaper, is shutting its doors tomorrow. I fear this will begin a stampede to the exits for many of the nation’s newspaper companies.

There can be no doubt that bad news continues to pile on in the newspaper industry, with the economic downturn providing the knockout blow to an already-staggering industry. The Philadelphia newspapers and the Journal Register Company both filed for bankruptcy over the past week. According the Associated Press, four owners of 33 newspapers have sought bankruptcy protection over the last 2 ½ months.

In recent years most newspapers weren’t doing that kind of journalism anyway. Rarely did investigative reporting win out over covering the local sports franchises, for example.

The Hearst Corp. announced that it might close its papers in Seattle and San Francisco if it can’t sell them or find other solutions to the millions of dollars they are losing each week. (That’s right, each week!)

In recent days, both Time and the New Republic have printed huge pieces speculating on how to save the newspaper business, joining a chorus of voices calling for help to save investigative and in-depth reporting by saving the newspaper industry.

Enough already! Let’s do something the industry hasn’t done in years: Listen to its customers. Let’s try giving them what they want. And guess what, they want news. And history has shown us that people will pay—one way or the other—for something they want..

A new poll from the respected Pew Research center tells us that for the first time in history more people say they get their national and international news from the Internet than from newspapers.

It’s time for the industry to listen and follow their customers.

Forget the newspaper industry. Let’s launch the News Industry. Say hello to News Inc. Let’s do what every industry does: Identify consumer demand and meet it.The good news is that consumers are just learning all the new ways they can get news and are still figuring out what works best for them. There is still time for those of us in the news industry to work with them and find out at the same time.

Many of us in the new-media world have known this for a long time and have been building outlets that are serving millions of readers. MarketWatch.com, TheStreet.com, Huffington Post, and The Daily Beast, among many others, have built audiences and businesses on this concept, without the benefit of having a traditional media product or news operation as our base. We built these businesses from scratch.

With the head start most media companies have, they should be able to build their digital platform businesses even faster. Some have. More people read the New York Times and the Washington Post online than in print.

What simply must change is this hand-wringing attitude that if newspapers die, so will responsible, in-depth reporting. Enough already. In recent years most newspapers weren’t doing that kind of journalism anyway. Choices were made, and rarely did investigative reporting win out over covering the local sports franchises, for example.

So let’s get this straight. There is a big future for news, journalism, investigative reporting, analysis, in-depth reporting, and terrific storytelling. But we need to do some work to create the business models that will support it.

Let’s stop arguing over whether there is enough advertising to support this, or if there needs to be other ways people pay for content. There are a huge number of alternatives and we just need to do what every business does: Test each possible method. Something will work.

Those models exist—just ask the people at MarketWatch, or Politico (which by the way includes a PRINT newspaper among its products), or TheStreet.com, YahooNews, MSNBC.com, or countless others.

We need to partner with people who know this new medium, technology and consumer habits. We need to launch new businesses with different revenue streams.

We can build these businesses out of the existing news businesses, but they must accelerate their ability to change and behave more entrepreneurially. They must explain what they are doing to their shareholders and their audience. No one said it would be easy, but they could capitalize on their brand value as trusted sources to their audiences.

But they have to change their focus.

The time has come for News Inc.

Let’s build these new news businesses around the content they cover, not the format in which they deliver the news. There should be one or more newsrooms on Wall Street that will cover Wall Street for every possible kind of outlet, including television, newspapers, BlackBerries, cellphones, magazines and the web. It should be obsessed with informing the public about everything going on in their financial center, good and bad.

There should be another newsroom that covers every major city. Another to cover Washington, or parts of it. Maybe one should just cover Capitol Hill, and another should just cover the White House. Maybe one should cover your state house or your city hall.

Or maybe one should cover your whole city, or just your neighborhood.

In some ways, this looks a bit like an old-fashioned wire-service model. One news-gathering force that supplies its output to many different news outlets. That AP reporter in Moscow would write a story that showed up on the front page of many newspapers across America the next day.

These news companies don’t even have to own their own outlets. They could create their news for partners in each media form: newspapers, phone companies, broadcasters. Each will pay for their news.

If we are going to create models to support news operations in the future, this is the way we will have to do it. Let’s rebuild an industry around its audience.

Larry Kramer is senior adviser at Polaris Venture Partners, a venture-capital firm. He served as the first president of CBS Digital Media and previously was chairman, CEO, and founder of MarketWatch.

Charles Foster Kane

Charles Foster Kane

Newspapers are still the best-staffed news organizations and remain journalism’s brightest hope—if they can only break their addiction to print.

It’s one of my favorite lines in Citizen Kane, the 1941 classic about a newspaper publisher. Kane is responding to his top financial advisor who just pointed out that Kane’s newspaper empire is losing a million dollars a year.

Charles Foster Kane: “You’re right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in…60 years.”

Turns out he was right, give or take a few years. Sixty-eight years after Kane uttered those words, the newspaper industry is staring death in the face.

Last week brought more news of impending doom. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection, the Hearst Corporation announced it would close the 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer unless a very unlikely buyer is found, and a few weeks earlier, E.W. Scripps made the same announcement about the Rocky Mountain News. A month before that, the venerable Tribune company, owners of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday and other major papers, also filed for bankruptcy.

We know the problems have surfaced everywhere. While some papers continue to make an operating profit, those profits are shrinking, and many papers are still being crushed because the profit isn’t enough to fund the debt that was taken on by the paper’s buyers. This is the case in places like Philadelphia and Minneapolis, as well as with the entire Tribune Company. Once immensely profitable regional newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Globe are losing a lot of money. The Chronicle is rumored to be losing more than a million dollars a week!

Newspaper companies need to turn the tide and turn it fast if they want to stay in business at all. It’s time to go on the offensive and renovate their businesses around the changing needs and demands of their customers. The difficulty lies in that much of their future may not involve paper, and the industry is having a hard time changing its name.

If they don’t, they will become what the railroad industry became. The railroads could have survived as major players in the business of transporting people, had they believed they were in the transportation business, not the train business. They would have invested in cars, buses and airplanes. But they didn’t, and while there remains a railroad industry today, it’s much smaller and less significant than it was.

That’s what will happen to the newspaper business unless the remaining players decide they are not in the newspaper business at all, but rather the news business. And if they want to stay in the news business, they need to get much more aggressive about giving people news the ways they want to get it. I say “ways” because the future of news will not be about one form of delivery. Studies now show us that consumers no longer get their news from one or two sources, but from many sources in many ways: from computers to BlackBerries and iPhones, to television and radio, to screens in elevators and at coffee shops throughout the day.

Luckily, since they are still the most adequately staffed local providers of news and information, newspapers have some time to take advantage of their strengths and move quickly into new and still developing platforms. But to do this, they’ll need to be nimble and fast.

By definition, news has a short shelf life. So in many cases, consumers want to know about news as soon as it happens. That could be the kind of news that everyone wants, like the plane landing in the Hudson, or it can be very personal, like one of your stocks just went way up or down, or the road you normally use to drive home from work is closed because of an accident. The fact is, the consumer now wants to participate in deciding how and when they get each type of news and who they get it from. This is their world.

The most difficult thing for the industry is creating all new business models to pay for that news, so they need to be aggressive in learning how to monetize news delivered over each of these new forms. The advertising model may not always work. Certain types of advertising that supported news, like classified ads, are gone from the newspaper and won’t be coming back. So now it is imperative that the industry find a way for the public to pay for the news it gets.

But they can’t start by making the public pay for the cost of producing a printed newspaper, when all they want is digitally delivered news. The public won’t pay for the industry’s problem. Face it, printed papers are old news.

Frankly the industry hasn’t done a very good job of convincing people that it can create a new business model. Doing so takes time and money, and newspaper companies are already low on both. Public newspaper companies have been crucified by their investors. The McClatchy Company, which made the biggest bets on the future of the industry by buying The Knight-Ridder chain, has seen the value of it’s stock drop 98 percent over the past five years—that’s what you would call a real no-confidence vote from the shareholders.

So here’s the rub: the newspaper companies need to develop business models that support newsrooms, not newspapers. And it’s likely going to be the private companies who don’t have to satisfy the public need for improved quarterly earnings that can lead the charge. They have to envision what the news business will look like in the future and build business models that support that, without the added burden of supporting a delivery system most users don’t care about. And they have to invest heavily in news gathering and news dissemination. The goals are both speed and context. The newsroom has to be part CNN Headline News and part The Economist..

The business transition from newspaper to news company is painful, but it’s the path they have to take. The new news companies will be built around what they cover, not how they distribute the news. There will be a news company, or more than one, covering subjects like national or financial news. There will also be newsrooms covering San Francisco or New York news. And each will have a news-gathering operation and a news-editing operation that will disseminate the news they gather over all platforms, from print (if there is a market for print) to TV, radio, mobile, and the internet. In each case, they will be paid for that content, either directly or through advertising sales. They might not even own the products that consumers use to get the news—certainly not the iPhones or BlackBerries, and not even necessarily the radio or TV stations or printed newspapers . They just have to be good at gathering and disseminating. If newspaper companies want to stay in business and stay relevant, they will need to leave the distribution game to someone else.

So, Mr. Kane, prepare to lose some more money, if you have it. If you can be a bit patient while you do that, you might still be business when it’s over.