Kevin: Fourwhere promises to help journalists see what is happening at a specific location. From a business standpoint, Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp all have built their business on checking in with mostly commercial locations. It makes sense from the standpoint of building a business for these services, but it doesn't necessarily build up a full view of what is happening on a location. If the location-based services started to provide other types of check-ins, it could provide a broader service. Conversely, journalism organisations could start providing more comprehensively geo-tagged content that could be sold to these services. Will they build the infrastructure to do it? Or will they miss another opportunity to develop a revenue stream and financially support journalism?
Kevin: InsideFacebook.com looks at Facebook's international growth. (Data from April 2010) Monthly growth in Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico, Argentina, and Malaysia of around 10%.
Kevin: Some fascinating statistics showing Twitter's international growth. Kit Eaton writes at FastCompany: "Specific events around the world sparked peaks in international growth, Sanford notes–with the February 2010 Chilean earthquake prompting a 1,200% spike in member sign-ups. A 300% spike was seen after Colombian politicians began to use the system, and speedier growth was seen in India after local politicos and Bollywood stars began to Tweet."
Kevin: Lots of lessons here about the new content economy. They run a very, very lean operation. They are visually led, which I think suits the content, and they have surprised advertisers in how well the advertising has performed. There is also a gem of a line in the piece about content designed for the iPad. Adam L. Penenberg, a journalism professor at New York University, said: "You’ll know a new narrative form has emerged when you have to consume a particular story on an iPad to truly understand its content, and reading it on any other platform simply wouldn’t work." (Hat tip to Mark J Davis for the recommendation on Twitter.)
Kevin: A group of privacy advocates, computer scientists, lawyers and other interested groups met for the 20th Annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference. They produced a bill of rights for social network users. Jon Pincus, chief technology officer of Qworky, a Seattle company that makes meeting software for small businesses, and co-chairman of the 20th CFP conference, which is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery said it best when he said: "The underlying idea is that Facebook likes to describe itself as equivalent to the third-largest country in the world. What rights do the citizens of that country have?"
Kevin: Richard McManus has a good look at how to improve information consumption in the flood of real-time news. He suggests topic tracking services such as Google Alerts, PubSub, LazyFeed and Topikality. He also suggests news aggregators or creating a single feed of several sources. This is increasingly easy to do with RSS or Twitter lists. One last good piece of advice: Turn off the firehouse when you need to work.
With just two weeks of cash left, Frédéric Filloux described the crisis at Le Monde as “the textbook example of the evolution of French press over the last years”. He then went point-by-point the problems afflicting Le Monde in particular but the French press in general:
- A steady erosion in readership.
- A lack of budget discipline, made worse by loose governance.
- The core newsroom’s reluctance to support the digital strategy
- The collective certainty the “brand” was too beautiful to fail and that a deep-pocketed philanthropist will inevitably show up at the right time to save the company.
- An difficulty to invest into the future, to test new ideas, to built prototypes, to coopt key talent or to invest in decisive technologies.
- A bottomless investment in the heavy-industry part of the supply chain, in costly printing facilities.
- An excessive reliance on public subsidies which account for about 10% of the industry’s entire revenue. Compared to Sweden, French newspapers have 3 times less readers, but each one gets 5 times more subsidies.
Most of these problems are not unique to the French press. The erosion of readership has afflicted the press in most of the western, developed world. A recent OECD report found that since 2007, newspaper circulation had declined by 30% in the US and by 25% in the UK. Before I moved to the UK in 2005, people always said that the problems afflicting the US press could never happen here because of the newspaper-reading culture. Only Japan’s newspaper market seems to have remained resilient.
In terms of a lack of budget discipline, I would only point to the industry in the US giving bonuses to execs while the companies were entering or operating under bankruptcy. As Robert Picard pointed out a year ago:
The Tribune Co. is trying to pay out $13 million in bonuses, the Journal Registers Co. is trying to pay $2 million, and Philadelphia Newspapers has already given hundreds of thousands in bonuses to its corporate officers.
The Tribune Co. is planning to put a cherry on top of the bonus sundae this year. They have already asked a bankruptcy court to approve $42.9m in bonuses and want to add an additional $16.2m in bonuses for execs when they exit bankruptcy protection. Of course, US media companies are not alone in providing bonuses to execs who preside over companies in financial distress. There are a few well known newspaper groups in the UK that have paid out bonuses to execs recently after announcing eye-watering losses.
As for lack of support in the core newsroom for digital strategies, I’d suggest that the current problem exist in a layer of powerful editors who believe they have the most to lose in any change. Rather than fully understand, much less support, the digital strategy of their organisations, they see it in their own best interest to protect the status quo and obstruct change, even as it leads to job losses and uncertainty over their own future. It is self-interest and short-sightedness to the extreme, but for them, it seems a rational decision.
Ah, the belief in the beauty of the brand, it is so endemic in media organisations that they can’t understand why their circulation is in decline. Surely in this age of a multitude of media choices, our brand, our quality will prevail, they say. Look at your books and your circulation, how’s that working for ya? Only a fool clings to a failing strategy, and the industry has more than enough fools to fill a ship.
Difficulty investing in the future, to experiment with new ideas, expensive investments in the past. Yes, yes, yes. It’s a textbook for more than France. About the only one that stands out as not generally applicable is the subsidy, and for those in the US and the UK looking for their own government bailout, it is instructive that while subsidies might help for a while, they are not a long term solution.
The industry has resisted fundamental change for so long. They believed that they could outrun the future with their brand, their quality and their market position, but they can’t. It is adapt or die, and if you wait long enough, you’ll be in the same position as Le Monde, with only two weeks of cash left and suddenly a room empty of suitors.
I honestly don’t believe most in the newspaper industry have the ability to make the changes necessary. They certainly haven’t demonstrated that in the past. In terms of the business of newspapers, they have proven that they can milk the business model for a little bit longer through cuts and consolidation. Bankruptcy will given them another go around, but it won’t fundamentally change the business environment that caused the collapse in the first place. The process will enrich a few but leave many journalists looking for something else to do.
As for me, I love journalism too much. I wasn’t going to wait around and watch anymore of this slow motion disaster. There are other ways to create a future in journalism and a future for journalism, and I’m loving have a chance to explore them.