Watchdogged


I’ll have my newspaper medium, please
November 19, 2010, 4:37 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Forever it’s been an obvious statement that newspapers and magazines are fundamentally different.  Today, though, the line is blurred to the point of irrelevance.  To be clear, the physical print versions are still very much independent of one another, but it’s that word again – print – that draws the boundaries; and as it disappears, so will the difference.  Because with publications – newspapers and magazines alike – migrating to the iPad, Marshall MacLuhan’s claim, “The medium is the message,” rings as true as ever.

But before we get to where we’re going [for the impatient, how newspapers can leverage this difference to financial prosperity], let’s understand where we came from.

The reading experience offered by a magazine has always been a less cumbersome one than a newspaper.  Its codex orientation makes for far simpler navigation through content, with less folding and awkward page-turning than the morning paper.  The unfortunate cost of that convenience was higher price of production, and the only way to justify such costs was with weekly or monthly publications, which don’t lend much use to breaking or day-to-day news.  Hence, magazines became the home of the feature.

Newspapers, meanwhile, adopted a function-over-form mentality.  If a massive, clunky, chunk of stacked paper folded in half presented itself as the only cost-effective way to get the daily news to the public, so be it!

And so newspapers housed the news (and, increasingly, other content), while magazines reserved their pages for features and analysis.  Such was the way of the world.

But print is no longer cost-effective for newspapers, and even if some magazines are still making profits, there’s really no long-term added value to maintaining their print edition.  And so the epic digital migration has begun.

As a result, the unique experiences of reading a newspaper and reading a magazine, as determined by difference in medium, have vanished.  Now on the same medium, the only difference lies in content. But because newspapers have long since published features and analysis, and have recently become leaders in multimedia production, that difference becomes their financial leverage.

The news belongs to the public, but features and analysis are luxury items – important on a variety of levels, but fundamentally unnecessary.  If newspapers were to publish hard news for free, fulfilling their public duty, but put the rest behind a pay-wall, they could scarcely change their behavior and become profitable once again.

Yes, I’m aware that a few years ago The New York Times put their premium content behind a pay-wall and it failed massively.  The difference now is the emergence of the iPad and other tablets as a new medium.  Reading on a computer, even a lightweight laptop, is simply too physically inflexible to justify charging for luxury content, because even if people aren’t aware of it, it isn’t the content that they pay for, it’s the experience.  The news is about rapid consumption; features and analysis are about indulgence and understanding – activities best enjoyed slowly and comfortably.



Not everyone can climb a paywall
November 4, 2010, 4:15 am
Filed under: Business Models, News Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Photo by Herbert Ponting (1870-1935)
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1787

A few implications of this quote stand out:

  • The government of the time was exclusively accessible to and comprised of property-owning white males.
  • Newspapers of the time, if not free, were almost certainly priced within the financial limits of these property-owning white males.
  • By deductive reasoning, newspapers were readily available to all voters.

If newspapers excluded certain voters, my guess is Thomas Jefferson should not hesitate a moment to second guess his decision.

Thus, the pay-wall predicament. Continue reading



Social (News) Media
October 28, 2010, 4:19 am
Filed under: News Media, Social Media, Uncategorized


As social media increasingly becomes the preferred method of news consumption, news organizations have to understand what it means that the old media giants on whose shoulders they stand have been slain by David’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The old-fashioned significance of what goes on the front page, let alone above or below the fold, is obsolete.  You can’t push the news particularly well anymore; too many people are pulling the information they want from third party applications and ignoring your news valuation in the process.  A lot of what they pull comes from RSS feeds, but the more valuable part (probably to both news consumers and news organizations) is what they learn from friends and the people they follow on Twitter. Continue reading



The Future of News: Is there an app for that?
October 26, 2010, 4:34 am
Filed under: Business Models, News Media, Uncategorized

Photo by Marco Pakoeningrat (Flickr Account: marcopako)
The case can be made, somewhat strongly, that apps provide a bullish future for the news media.  The rationale lies primarily in the fact that, for whatever reason, people are willing to pay for apps.  Wired makes the claim that they pay for the higher “quality of service” offered by an app:

Every time you pick an iPhone app instead of a Web site, you are voting with your finger: A better experience is worth paying for, either in cash or in implicit acceptance of a non-Web standard.

A second fun fact about content-based apps, courtesy of a recent report by Nielsen, is that people are more willing to accept advertising on them.  The interactivity offered, particularly on the iPad, effectively engages the user to such a degree that they no longer abhor their presence.

With the potential for increases in consumers’ willingness-to-pay and advertising value, yes, apps could save the news industry’s financial woes.

I’m worried that might not be a good thing. Continue reading



Faith through facts: Using data to build trust
October 20, 2010, 6:28 pm
Filed under: News Media, Uncategorized

Numbers can enlighten, befuddle and mislead.  Sometimes the numbers accomplish these feats themselves, other times a reporter may have a tough time passing along the message inside the numbers, and even others, a reader might simply misunderstand them through his own ineptitude.  It’s a treacherous path from the spreadsheet to the reader’s mind.  And in today’s world, where numbers are the most widely accepted truth, it seems like a risky approach to truth-telling.

As discussed last week, the public used to accept a substantial amount of risk-ridden truth from the old order of news media.  They had to.  A lack of accountability meant an inflated level of trust.  That balloon has popped, and the news media are struggling to restore their credibility.  Thankfully, they seem to have found a piece of the solution in data visualization. Continue reading



Only trust links people and truth
October 13, 2010, 6:18 am
Filed under: News Media, Social Media | Tags: , , ,

Less than 30 percent of readers believe the news gets the facts straight, while less than 20 percent believe the news deals fairly with all sides of an issue*.

What I draw from these statistics is that people don’t trust the news because they perceive it as biased. [Other interpretations strongly encouraged in the comments.] They’re probably right, but even if they aren’t, it doesn’t matter.  If the news were true, but people didn’t see it as such, it wouldn’t make any shred of a difference.

The truth might be the news’ first priority, but news media must be about trust first and truth second.  For people to believe the truth you tell them, they have to trust you.  So how does one generate trust? Continue reading



Collaboration over Competition
October 6, 2010, 6:49 pm
Filed under: News Media, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Obviously the news media is going through tough times, but they’re also struggling in more elementary ways than developing new financial models and adapting to a high-tech environment.  They have to learn to be friends.

It seems counterintuitive – friendliness in business – especially after decades and decades of bullying, intimidating and, most importantly, bankrupting your competitors.  But as the digital media landscape has changed the fundamentals of the news business, it’s also transforming the fundamentals of news media sociology. If some things work and others don’t, but different organizations specialize in these different skills, cooperation is the logical, economically-sound solution.  The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Sharing is caring. Continue reading