Journalism job seekers: What to bring to the interview

I know from my own recent job search how difficult it is to get that interview. Once you get an interview, you want to give it your best. From my own recent experience interviewing journalism candidates, I found that candidates, both starting out and experienced, were failing to put their best foot forward once they landed an interview.

Since starting as executive editor for two newspapers in February, I’ve been through two interview cycles, one to fill the position of regional features editor and another for summer intern positions in both of my newsrooms. Now that I’ve conducted a couple of dozen interviews with candidates, I’m going to offer up some advice to job seekers. Most of this I would have thought obvious, but I have been shocked at how few candidates I interviewed came properly prepared.

  • Come with story ideas. Whether it is for a reporter’s or an editor’s position, prepare detailed and relevant story ideas to discuss in the interview. For both the editor’s role and the summer intern position, I had people completely fail to bring story ideas. That doesn’t fill me with confidence in your interest in this position.
  • Research my publications. Throughout my job search, when I got an interview I did as much research about the publications of my potential new employers as I could. Not only does this generate the story ideas mentioned above, it also allowed me to demonstrate some understanding, admittedly superficial, of the local news climate and the challenges facing the business. I was shocked when applicants hadn’t even bothered to look at my sites.
  • Do a little research about the community. The more that you can demonstrate an understanding of the communities and audiences you will be serving, the better. An international business newspaper has a very different community to a local weekly, for example, and story ides for one may not work for the other. Researching the community will, again, help you come up with relevant story ideas.
  • Bring ideas on how to build audience and yes, revenue. This isn’t a mistake, but in this competitive job market, this gets my attention. A couple of candidates for the regional editor’s position highlighted this in their resumes and cover letter, and it immediately got my attention. Although both were ultimately unsuccessful, this got my attention. In 2014, a journalist needs to know and care about the business.

I would have thought that most of this was Job Search 101, but I was surprised at how poorly prepared some of the people who applied for jobs at my papers were. One applicant for the regional features editor’s job didn’t even seem to be aware of the job she had applied for, saying that she wanted to be a features or opinions editor. Within a few minutes it became obvious that she was neither interested in nor prepared for the interview. It was a first round interview to winnow the field, and she definitely made my job easier.

In both interview cycles, we ended up with great candidates who made the final choice very difficult. The successful candidates came to the interview with energy, knowledge of the papers and community, and great story ideas.

The journalism job market is very tough. I know: I spent six months last year looking to move from media consultancy back into a full-time newsroom leadership position. It was a lot harder to get interviews this time round than was back in 2006, the last time I was looking for a job. So when you do land that interview, you really want to nail it.

I don’t think that any of the advice above is earth shattering, but based on interviews I’ve conducted recently, it either isn’t universally known, or candidates think they don’t have to bother. But if you really want that job, then a little legwork up front will pay big dividends when it comes to the interview.

I’m doing a new round of interviews for a reporting position in one of my newsrooms. We’ve already had a number of strong applicants, but if you have a passion to create the future of local journalism, then I want you to apply. I’ll be starting the first round interviews soon so don’t delay.

Newspapers: Community, priorities and platforms

I’ve been having a cracking conversation via blogs, Facebook and Twitter about how newspapers can rethink what they cover and, in doing so, cover more of the lived experience in their communities. When I said ‘cover more’, some journalists felt as if I was adding another bale of straw to their already breaking backs.

Andrea Gillhoolley, the community engagement team leader and reporter for the Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News said this to me on Twitter:

After years of declining readership and revenues that have led to savage cuts, to say that local journalists are stretched thin is an understatement. They are stretched to breaking point. I understand that. I was with the BBC for eight years, and half of the time I was there, there were cuts. I was with The Guardian three and a half years, and half of the time I was there, there were cuts, and deep ones.

When the cuts started, the talk was about ‘doing more with less’. It was about finding efficiencies and cutting out the duplication of effort, but after years of cuts, newsrooms now find themselves able to do less with much less. Editors have had to become a lot more creative on how they work with the staff they have left, with other resources if they are in a group, and with their communities.

John Robinson started this conversation when he challenged newspapers to break out of their traditional paradigm. In that post, he asked:

Is the disconnect between how I live and what the news covers unusual?

And he added:

What would happen if the newspaper or TV station compared their typical content with the day-to-day interests and activities of their readers/viewers? And what if they took those results and changed the way they report the news? Would that make their products more relevant to the people they aim to serve?

John was talking changing the mix of coverage to increase relevance, not simply doing more, an idea which really resonated with me.

For years, I have been talking about how journalism competes in the attention economy. In an age when content, information and entertainment are not scarce, people’s time and attention is the scarce resource. Newspapers aren’t just competing against other newspapers, magazines or TV and radio outlets that produce news. Newspapers in particular, and journalism in general, are competing against every other thing that can capture people’s disposable time and attention. That’s the competitive challenge, and it is daunting when one considers that we join this fight with smaller staffs and fewer resources.

Creating a community platform

Journalism can win in this hyper-competitive fight for people’s attention, and we’re starting to see digitally-savvy media organisations succeed such as PolicyMic and Buzzfeed (my jetlagged brain originally wrote Buzzworthy – the merger of Buzzfeed and Upworthy). It’s a new mix of internet memes, content and commentary. Newspapers have always been a package of hard news, lifestyle and comment, something that is much clearer outside of the US (where I’m from) than inside, where a particular model of non-partisan media, an anodyne AP-style with little voice, has come to rule.

For local media, I don’t really see the option to become partisan like the British press or US cable news. Local media became non-partisan in the US because it was the only way economically to appeal to a wide enough cross-section of the community with a single publication. I also don’t see local newsmedia becoming regional versions of Buzzfeed. However, I do see the opportunity to become the voice for the community.

Steve Yelvington, a friend and someone I look up as a true journalism pioneer, has been speaking about a “new kind of people’s journalism” for more a decade. In a post last year, he expanded on what he meant, specifically saying that “people’s journalism isn’t ‘citizen journalism'”. He said:

We can apply traditional definitions of “newsworthy” and “journalism” if we like, but there’s really not much point. This new news will flow of its own accord, propelled by people’s interests. There are no gatekeepers in this environment. … Professional journalism has had years to think about how to adapt to this new reality, and on the whole, it’s failed. [This people’s journalism is] not a replacement. It’s a new, complex model that obsoletes some of what pro journalism did in the era of mass media but creates new opportunities for adding value.

The key is focusing on the “new opportunities for adding value”. I still believe that there is an opportunity for local newsmedia to become community platforms. This goes far beyond simply monitoring social media and using it as voxpops (man-on-the-street quotes) for stories.

Steve’s thinking led to Bluffton Today, “a blog-centered community website”, which is still going seven years after launch. In 2007, Steve was interviewed by IFRA about the project, and it is worth reading in full, and this is the thinking behind the project:

The important thing to recognize about Bluffton Today is that it’s a multimedia operation that endeavors to exploit the unique strengths of each medium.

The newspaper is free and home-delivered, taking advantage of print’s advantages in browsability and discovery. The website engages people in a conversation through blogs and photo-sharing, taking advantage of the Internet’s advantages in human interaction and immediacy. These two sides come together through a professional news staff that uses the Web as a listening post. We pick up some blogs and photos for the print product, but the real “secret sauce” is that the community conversation helps the professional journalist connect with the real interests and passions of regular people, and not just the agendas of the institutions and newsmakers that pro journalists usually cover. Our own research shows that the professional news staff of Bluffton Today is closely aligned with members of the community when asked about community issues and problems, while there is a big gap at most other newspapers. We think that tight alignment is one of the big factors contributing to the extraordinary readership success of the newspaper.

It is a community platform in which professional news staff play a slightly different role by amplifying the real interests and passions of the community, things that people “groove on”, as Dan Conover said in a comment on John’s original post.

How does a community platform scale?

The challenges for many larger media companies is how to use their scale effectively against an army of digital insurgents that don’t share incumbents’ cost base. I think that local media face a slightly different challenge, even if they are part of a larger group. Yes, they can draw on the group’s resources for regional coverage, but that regional coverage will most likely be done reasonably well by other media than a local newspaper. The real place to add value is local content and conversations that no one else is providing.

This gets us back to the original issue I touched on: How do you scale local content with greatly reduced staff?

This is where the community platform is key, and the concept of a local platform is different in 2013 than when Bluffton Today launched in 2007 in part because most local audiences are probably already interacting online on a social network. Here are just some ideas on how to create an economically viable, scalable community platform. 

• Sharing photos

Steve and his group, Morris, were smart. They created a local photo sharing service, Spotted, which you can see on Bluffton Today. In 2007, Steve told me that at some of the newspaper sites for Morris, up to 40 percent of traffic was to local photo galleries.

The best photos can be highlighted not only online but also in the newspaper. People still like to see their words and their pictures in print. 

What shocks me is that many newspapers developed the ability for their audiences to share photos only to abandon these efforts. My guess is that they feel the efforts cannot compete with Instagram, Facebook or Flickr, but I’ll wager that there was a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude. Communities take effort, and this is especially true these days with so many social media services competing for people’s online attention. 

• A true community forum

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself,” playwright Arthur Miller said in 1961. Journalism has always been about more than simply providing information, and for me, the greatest opportunities remain for newspapers both national and local in becoming a platform for real conversations. I mean much, much more than comments on the bottom of articles or staff produced columns. ‘Community’ on most news sites is an entirely passive, technology-focused effort that manages to suck the social out of social media. 

USAToday has long had head-to-head pieces on major issues. There should be much more of this on local issues. 

Josh Stearns, with the Freepress project, has also  contributed to this blog conversation. His concern is that as news media struggle for survival that they will only focus on affluent audiences that premium advertisers want to reach. He referred to a 2006 talk that “editor Tom Stites gave at UMass Amherst in 2006. ‘Why is it that less-than-affluent Americans are being zoned out of serious reporting?’” This is even more important today as inequality is on the rise in many countries across Europe and North America. 

However, it comes back to the same question as above about resourcing. How do weakened news organisations cover a wider range of society? Again, a community platform strategy can help with this, providing a place for groups and people to provide perspectives that might not be covered. This is not an effortless or resource-free strategy – a mistaken assumption made by many media organisations – but a platform strategy is about multiplying your resources through outreach. 

• Engage super-users

When I was on the launch team of the BBC’s World Have Your Say, one of my strategies was to engage our most passionate users. At conferences, I often give the example of a listener that I simply referred to as “Steve from Utah”. I asked him to test an audio commenting technology that we wanted to use. He not only tested it, but without me even asking, he recorded a promo for the new service. If you engage your most passionate members of your audience, you’ll be amazed at what they’ll do. 

Journalism.co.uk recently reported on how Swedish Radio has been engaging its super-users:

In addition to four people within a dedicated social media team, local super-users generate ideas and inspire teams at the various radio stations. The super-users are themselves organised by a Facebook group, and have annual masterclasses.

These active social media strategies go far beyond passive comments on articles, which don’t attract much engagement on many local newspapers anyway. These are active strategies that require active outreach, and if I were an editor of a newspaper, I would lead these efforts. 

To me, redirecting some of the scarce resources remaining to these strategies would be a much more strategic use of staff time and effort. I believe that it would deliver a newspaper and digital services more in touch and more engaged with the communities it serves, and that for me is a good place to start rebuilding local journalism. 

 

 

Newspapers, changing paradigms and defining priorities

If you like this post and are looking for an editor or digital media leader, I’m still in the market for a full-time editorial management job, so get in touch. After a few years of working independently with news organisations including Al Jazeera, CNN International, B2B publisher RBI and India’s Web18, I’m looking to invest in a news organisation that will invest in me. 

Although John Robinson has stepped out of the editor’s chair at the News & Record in North Carolina, (a beautiful state if you haven’t been), he is still challenging his newspaper and his fellow journalists to think different. In his latest post, he looked at how he spent his time and how those priorities were reflected – or not – in his newspaper. He writes:

My newspaper isn’t alone in not reflecting how I live. It is typical of most people and their papers. And it’s not restricted to newspapers; TV news has the same news diet, and it’s not in touch with mine.

Is the disconnect between how I live and what the news covers unusual?

NewImage

This reminded me of a report from 2007, Frontiers in Innovation in Community Engagement, by Lisa Williams, Dan Gillmor and Jane Mackay, which challenged news sites to become better at “translating the lived experience of their community”. I blogged about the report at the time, and the quote that really jumped out at me then is still relevant now:

Broadly speaking, the most successful sites are most effective at translating the lived experience of their community onto the web. But only a tiny fraction of lived experience is news. One way of looking at the process of wrapping an online community around a news organization is that it’s an effort to dramatically broaden the range of lived experience represented by the news organization’s output – output that now includes content supplied by nonjournalists.

Recently, I interviewed for an executive editor’s position in the US and, during part of the interview, I did have a moment when I was possibly too honest and said the papers seemed to be “subsisting on the fumes cast off by official life”: Crime, council meetings and planned events. They did have features, in which I could tell the reporters were trying to stretch their wings a bit, and excellent coverage of school sports, but it still was a heavy diet of life as seen through the lens of cops and councillors. A bright spot was their blogs, which covered a range of lifestyle issues including local music and even video games. They promoted them in the paper (minus a link or QR code), but the blogs were hidden pretty effectively on the sites themselves.

Were I to get that job, I would love to revamp the blogs into a mixed community platform that opens up to outside contributors. For the live entertainment blog, I’d get free tickets for contributors. It would take effort and some editorial resources, but it is a formula that scales. I think a food and drink blog would be essential, and it is easy to monetise. And that is exactly what newspapers need right now, editorial projects that generate income to allow them to cover what the blogger won’t or can’t – cops and councils – while bringing in their community to cover that broad range of lived experience.

Dan Conover, left this great comment on how to choose the verticals for this type of community network:

For new media ventures to be successful, they need to fit a formula like this: It needs to assemble a coherent audience (a precise fit for a defined group of potential advertisers) with a sustainable audience-to-reporter ratio, around a topic with intense interest. Forget what people do. Forget what they tell you in focus groups or surveys. Find out what they groove on, and then see if you can do better than break-even on covering it.

To put it succinctly, Ken Sands, who set up a pioneering blog network in Spokane, told me a few years back that the sweet spot is the intersection of location and passion. Local isn’t enough, and hyperlocal plus hyper-niche simply doesn’t work. It’s too narrow to generate enough of an audience to justify the effort or to attract advertisers and sponsors.

Setting priorities

That brings me to another point. This post grew out of a post on Facebook in which John asked about rethinking beats. He quoted Matt DeRienzo of Digital First Media who left a comment on Facebook and said:

We recently established a full-time poverty beat. We are also going to be dedicating more resources to commodity breaking news, though, because competition with TV station web efforts is killing us.

I applaud Matt for establishing a poverty beat because when I’m back in the US I see green shoots of growth after the Great Recession, but I also see a lot of people struggling mightily. I also hear about the struggle to prioritise because of competition from local TV in real-time, breaking news. TV is brilliant at it, and the workflow is much better suited to it, which is something I realised during my years working for the BBC.

Newspapers are facing all kinds of challenges these days, and one of the biggest is how to set priorities in an era of scarce resources. As John says later in his post:

Mass is dead or dying. News orgs can’t do everything.

In digital, in fact, in journalism, there are so many things you can do that you have to decide what you must do. As Rob Curley at the Orange County Register says to new hires:

• Truly understand what our readers need from us
• Truly understand how our readers consume our stories
• Truly understand relevance

Relevance and needs go beyond hard news, and newsroom leaders need to figure out how to cover more of the lived experience of their communities in a way that scales and supports public service coverage. Understand relevance to set priorities and find out what people really groove on, and allow the community to help you cover those passionate niches.

UPDATE: Thanks to Francesco Magnocavallo who let me know in the comments that the original link to the Frontiers in Innovation of Community Engagement no longer worked. I’ve added the working link to the post.

Highlight good discussions to encourage positive online debate

There has been a lot of handwringing about the broken-ness of comments online. Great comments take the right strategic editorial approach and a bit of effort. Did anyone really believe the only thing a media company needed to do was slap a comment box on the bottom of articles? Too often that seems like the case.

What still baffles me after all these years is the low-hanging fruit that most news organisations are missing with community. Digitally native media doesn’t miss these easy wins. For instance, Lifehacker has a Discussion of the Day. Walter Glenn sums up the idea:

Great discussions are par for the course here on Lifehacker. Each day, we highlight a discussion that is particularly helpful or insightful, along with other great discussions and reader questions you may have missed. Check out these discussions and add your own thoughts to make them even more wonderful!

It’s a simple and positive way to drive people to the editorial features focused on discussions. They even call their commenters participants. Simple touches that all communicate a positive sense about the conversations they want to create.

Why don’t newspapers do this more often and print the best responses in the paper as well? Highlighting the comments in print would be a way to reward the  best comments, and hey, it might also drive some print sales. It ain’t rocket science, just some simple strategic thinking about user engagement.

Lifehackerdiscussions

Journalism: Paid content and determining the cost of free

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I’m a huge fan of NPR’s Planet Money programme. The show guides you through the arcana of finance and economics in a witty and accessible way. Recently, they rebroadcast a programme on the cost of free. In this case they were talking about free doughnuts and rumours of a longstanding grudge that US veterans have against the Red Cross. Planet Money’s Chana Joffe-Walt investigated, and sure enough, American vets do grumble about the Red Cross charging for their doughnuts. The story is a bit more complicated, and I don’t want to spoil the reveal, but the story illustrates in Planet Money’s own wonderful fashion the cost of free, or more precisely, the cost to businesses of charging for something that used to be free. In the case of the Red Cross, they still have trouble shifting the opinion of vets who once got doughnuts for free and then found themselves paying for them.

If consumers are used to one price and it changes, the change will seem more dramatic, according to economist Uri Simonsohn, who is interviewed in the piece. When that reference price is zero, consumers will have one of two reactions. They will either adjust their reference price, the price that they are accustomed to paying, or Simonsohn says a price change can be seen as a categorical change, a change in the relationship between the consumer and the organisation. Simonsohn compared this categorical change to akin if your parents charged you for a holiday meal. The Red Cross charging servicemen for doughnuts was send as a categorical change, and Joffe-Walt said that the servicemen felt betrayed by the change in price and the change in the relationship brought about by that price change.

Simonsohn says businesses make these massively damaging categorical mistakes when they start charging for things that “people don’t think are part of business”. For example, Delta Airlines made the mistake of charging to speak to agents over the telephone in the 1990s, and Planet Money host Alex Blumberg says that customers “freaked out” and were so furious that Delta were forced to reverse the decision. As Blumberg said at the top of the programme, “Free can backfire. When you take something that was free and give it a price, that is a highly a risky move.” When people view a change in their relationship with a business as categorical, their imagination starts to run wild. If a business is going to charge me for this previously free product or service, they ask, where will it end?

Some price changes, however, are accepted. People won’t stand for being charged to speak to an agent, but now many Americans and most Europeans flying on low-cost carriers have accepted paying for bags. The idea that they have to pay to move not only themselves but their baggage from one place to another makes sense, but paying someone to have a conversation, that doesn’t make sense at all.

So how can businesses, including news organisations, avoid making the mistake of a categorical change in what they charge? As Joffe-Walt says, news organisations like the New York Times are wrestling with this. Blumberg said that people can either view the New York Times as a newspaper, which they know they pay for, or they can view it in the online ‘information wants to be free’ category. “Avoid for charging for things that people would not describe as ‘hey, I got this for free’ because that mistake could be very hard to fix,” Blumberg said.

We are seeing a lot of experiments by news organisations who are trying to generate revenue from readers to help pay for journalism, but it’s important that publishers not try to charge  for things that their readers don’t see as part of the journalism business. Making a category change error could have serious ramifications, and many news organisations do not have the resilience left to survive such mistakes. The big challenge of paid content has been, and continues to be, in understanding what things (or, more often, what bundle of things), readers will pay for. Fortunately, we’re starting to figure out what works and, just as importantly, what doesn’t.

Journalism transformation: Break down silos and innovate strategically

News organisations are still facing a lot of challenges in 2013. Tribune newspapers is reportedly looking for $100 m in savings, which will probably mean more staff cuts. Gannett recently eliminated 200 jobs at its local newspapers. Reuters has been the focus of a lot of rather unflattering coverage of how it blew through an estimated $20 m on a consumer website revamp that failed to deliver a working website.

I don’t mean to be a “prophet of doom” to borrow a line from Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics, but times are still tough. However, Charlie looks at some recent research to find out management strategies of news organisations that are successfully navigating this disruptive period and transforming themselves into multi-platform news providers. In a recent piece in inPublishing, Charlie says:

Recent research on the most progressive newsrooms says that the successful ones are those that combine commercial, technological and editorial management most closely. This is not just a case of slavishly following the money by following the clicks. Instead it is more a case of linking editorial tactics to a clear plan for revenue growth.

This reminds me of a conversation I had this week with my former editor at the BBC, Nic Newman. In the past, we had editorial, commercial and technical silos in news organisations, and we need a lot better coordination. There is a lot of discomfort from journalists about breaking down the wall between editorial and commercial, but I believe Charlie has found the right way of putting it. We have to link editorial strategy to revenue growth if we want to have sustainable, independent news organisations, and I think that there are a lot of ways to build the business of journalism to support the mission of journalism. However, as Nic says, we’ve all got to work together, commercial, technical and editorial.

Joy Mayer, the director of community outreach for the Columbia Missourian, the newspaper run by the faculty of the University of Missouri and staffed by journalists there, wrote a great piece on how to create editorial tactics that work. Speaking specifically about social media strategies, she says that to create an effective strategy, you need to ask three questions:

1. Why am I doing this?
2. What do I hope to happen? (Is your answer measurable or trackable?)
3. How will I track what works and use that feedback to craft future strategies?

With print, broadcast and digital strategies, we need to ask why we are doing something, and I think that this is really important in terms of opportunity costs. What is the cost of doing this as opposed to something else? Let’s stay on the topic of social media. This week there was quite a hullabaloo about Popular Science shutting off comments on all but a handful of debate focused articles. PopSci associate editor Dan Nosowitz said in a radio interview: “we think that the current form we have for comments wasn’t doing our readers much of a service”, according to a post on Poynter.

Let’s step back and look at a different way. What is the opportunity cost for PopSci of comments in their current form? What would it cost in terms of staffing to improve the experience? Is that staff time better spent elsewhere? Of course, I skipped to question two on Joy’s list. Going back to her first question: Why do they have comments in the first place? Is there a better way for them to achieve their goal another way? What are the metrics for success of this new strategy? If you answer the why question, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively to staff what they’re trying to achieve, and as an employee, I can remember examples when editors or managers helped me be more effective by giving me clear guidance. Yes, we want to experiment a lot, but we also need focus to be effective.

This is what transformational management looks like: Clear goals that achieve the journalistic mission and help generate revenue to support that mission.

NPR head of apps: Mobile media doesn’t mean on the move anymore

In the UK, nearly half of the population uses a smartphone – that’s 60 percent of all mobile phone users – according to data from eMarketer. In the US, two-thirds of mobile users access the internet on their phones, according to a recent Pew poll, and mobile has nearly doubled the amount of time spent online. Across large parts of Africa and South Asia, the mobile phone is the only way that many people access the internet, according to research from browser maker Opera.

Research in the US from comScore and Jumptap showed that while mobile has doubled time spent online, in the sport and general news categories, 62 percent of time is still on desktop or laptop computers with 31 percent on tablet and only 7 percent on mobile. Josh Benton at Nieman Lab said:

The high desktop/laptop number makes sense — an awful lot of online news is consumed by deskbound office workers — but the tablet share has to be disappointing to all the news execs who bet the iPad would revive their business models.

This is why some news leaders, such as Digital First Media’s Steve Buttry, have long been arguing for a mobile first strategy. In 2009, Buttry said:

News organizations are belatedly, reluctantly and often awkwardly pursuing “web-first” strategies. As we fight these web battles, I am increasingly coming to believe that “web first” is what the military would call fighting the last war. News organizations need a mobile-first strategy.

The digital world never stops moving, and Steve, who I count as a friend, is right. We need to keep pace with the rapid shift in consumer preference.

IJNet has a great overview of a talk that NPR news app editor Brian Boyer gave about ‘mobile first’ at a recent Hacks/Hackers events in Buenos Aires.

Since the iPhone, people expect the internet to just work on their mobile devices, and Boyer believes that it is his job to make sure that their apps work for their audience. That makes sense, but catering to mobile users isn’t just about user experience, although that it is important.

Mobile first is more than making sure your content fits the smaller screen of a smartphone, but just as importantly, the strategy is more than being mobile, being on the move. As Jessica Weiss pointed out in IJNet:

According to Business Insider, 77 percent of people in the U.S. use mobile phones while lying in bed, 70 percent while watching TV, 65 percent while waiting and 41 percent in the bathroom.

Boyer said that mobile news is about filling the “cracks in the day”, the “in between moments” people have. That might be “before they go to work, while they are commuting or ‘in bed after children are asleep”.

A number of sites are now seeing an evening mini-spike in traffic as people take their tablets to bed. How are we serving those consumers? How many news organisations are developing evening tablet editions for these consumers? Would this be an attractive edition that would add subscribers to a bundled print-digital paid content strategy? How can news organisations use mobile notifications more effectively? There is a lot of opportunity here, and news organisations need to be prepared to move quickly with this rapidly changing market.

Journalism innovation: Asteroids and adaptation

This is a follow up to my piece or The Media Briefing looking at why integration might have been the wrong response to digital disruption. Like that piece, this originally appeared on The Media Briefing

After I challenged a lot of the conventional wisdomabout print-digital integration, Neil Thackraycompared digital disruption to “a sci-fi B-movie where Earth is threatened with destruction by an incoming asteroid”. I love the analogy.

He broke down the response of media managers to digital disruption like this:

  • Asteroid deniers, who don’t believe that digital is a threat.
  • Radio astronomers, who spot the asteroid at a distance and know the world is doomed but see the threat as so distant that they take no action.
  • Naked eye astronomers, who have only just spotted the asteroid and are making frantic but futile changes.
  • Rational scientists, who spot the asteroid early and invest in a rocket ship to carry them away to safety.

As Neil points out, being able to spot the asteroid doesn’t mean we’ll be able to save the planet. One of the major lessons of Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma is that even once a disrupted industry sees the asteroid as a threat, they still too often fail to adapt successfully.

Kodak developed the first digital camera in 1975, but it couldn’t capitalise on that early innovation. It created an iconic, successful business based on its dominance in the film, chemical and paper business.  But as cheap digital products got better, Kodak was killed by its cash cow.

It has been much the same for print media. In a 2011 report, Christensen, working with Canadian journalist David Skok and Harvard Business review writer James Allworth explained how magazines and newspapers’ dominance in print became a weakness:

For many years, the systems and processes used to gather, distribute and sell the news worked well. And in most respects they still do. It is a marvellous sight to witness a newspaper brought to life or a newscast on air, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those systems were designed precisely for that process. But what was once an advantage has become an albatross.

The result is that much of print media finds itself stuck. Christensen, Skok and Allworth put the situation for news organisations like this:

Four years after the 2008 financial crisis, traditional news organizations continue to see their newsrooms shrink or close. Those that survive remain mired in the innovator’s dilemma: A false choice between today’s revenues and tomorrow’s digital promise.

At this point, if you’re a regional newspaper publisher in the UK or a print consumer magazine group, you know that your traditional audiences are declining, but you also know that your current digital revenue won’t pay the cost of supporting your traditional business. Yes, print media groups are all trying to grow their digital revenue as quickly as possible, but the big question still remains for most groups in this very different market: How to adapt?

The economist and writer Tim Harford has an entire book on the subject,Adapt: Why success always starts with failure. In the book, he lays out a three-part “recipe for successfully adapting”:

  • Try new things, in the expectation that some will fail.
  • To make failure survivable, because it will be common.
  • And to make sure that you know when you’ve failed”.

When I was digital research editor at The Guardian in 2009 and early 2010, my goal was to bring down the cost of experimentation down as close to zero as possible and try different things using low or no-cost third party services. It’s a rather simple strategy to increase experimentation.

These days if you want to try something editorially, there’s an app, a web service or a plucky start-up for that. To know whether I was successful or whether I had failed, I had a set of goals that ranged from higher user engagement, mining our own stories for data or a more efficient editorial process. In an ideal world, I would have worked with commercial teams to add revenue goals for some of the projects. Goals are important because if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.

It is a model that increases experimentation, and for those projects that are successful, they can be deployed across the organisation.

Experimentation, especially editorial, is easier than ever, but organisational change is still really hard. In the next piece, I’ll look at how to scale innovation and create organisational change.

Microsoft and Nokia: Death by management

When Steve Ballmer announced that he was retiring, I said on Twitter that the announcement was unsurprising but that Microsoft needed a surprise to replace him. Ever since Microsoftie Stephen Elop took the helm of Nokia, everyone has been predicting that Microsoft would scoop up the fallen mobile giant. The speculation only intensified when Elop decided that the only way to save Nokia’s burning platform was to abandon its own operating system and adopt Microsoft’s minority mobile platform. At a conference in 2011, I asked fellow speaker and media innovator Robert Tercek what he thought of a potential Microsoft-Nokia tie up, and he said, “Tying together two rocks doesn’t make them float.”

Now Ballmer has followed up his rather predictable decision to retire with a rather predictable acquisition, a big chunk of Nokia. I am sure that in Ballmer’s mind he was trying to demonstrate boldness. He has instead shown just how unimaginative he is as a leader. He’s run out of time to launch Microsoft into a new era of growth so instead he’s decided to build a bigger corporate beast.

Microsoft’s Windows empire is besieged by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, and Ballmer and his lieutenants knew they needed to boost their mobile efforts. But how does this acquisition help that? While Microsoft feels like it is just past its peak but still has its strengths, Nokia’s position is much more precarious.

In the PowerPoint explaining the acquisition, Microsoft said that this acquisition would accelerate growth. Pray tell how? Nokia has seen its smartphone share collapse in the last three years, from 34.2 percent to 3 percent. Looking at that slide deck, I see a company in denial. They say that success in phones will drive success in tablets and success in tablets will drive success in PCs. To achieve this, Microsoft would need Nokia’s Lumia line to take off like a rocket, and they also need to sort out their own tablet strategy. Writing off $900 m on their Windows RT Surface tablets means they need a tablet strategy. It doesn’t mean they have one.

Microsoft is facing The Innovator’s Dilemma. They have a couple of lucrative business lines that are under pressure – Windows and Office, but both face competition. PC sales are flagging, and many people are finding that tablets are good enough for most of what they do. In terms of Office, Microsoft is under pressure from cloud competitors such as Google.

Now there is a lot of talk of Elop replacing Ballmer at the helm of Microsoft? Really? He has done precious little to right the ship at Nokia, and most of his strategies have yet to show real results.

Microsoft and Nokia both needed a new vision, a coherent strategy to the relentless change in technology, but instead of inspirational leadership and a clear headed view of how the companies need to adapt, they have an uninspired tie up.

Newspapers versus Netflix: Adventures in the attention economy

Newspaper circulation continues to decline at almost all of the national newspapers in the UK (with the notable exception of the ‘i’), with sales down 1.4 m over the past year, according to ABC. Pat Smith at The Media Briefing highlighted this and also drew attention that over the same year, Netflix added 1.5 subscriptions. Pat made this observation (emphasis his):

A coincidence? Maybe. On-demand TV and films are hardly substitutional for newspapers. But what this shows is there is a vast audience out there willing to pay for digital content. As desire for print media falls, enthusiasm for paid-for digital services grows.

It doesn’t matter to me whether people decided to drop their newspaper subscription and use that money to buy a Netflix sub instead. This isn’t about whether TV and films are a substitute for newspapers and journalism, but rather the staggering rise in choices for how people spend their time and where they spend their attention. In the digital era, content and entertainment choices are exploding, but the one finite resource is people’s time. My friend Mohamed Nanabhay, the former head of Al Jazeera English, put it this way:

My colleagues who work on the broadcast side of the business can easily say our competitors are CNNi and the BBC. But I don’t get that luxury, because we’re competing with everybody who puts up a webpage on the internet. And everybody who tweets, or posts on Facebook, or anything.

That might sound hyperbolic, but it isn’t at all. American journalist and digital pioneer Steve Yelvington broke down online attention when the news group he works for announced their “audience first” strategy a little more than a year ago. Look at the graph he created, and see the big slices of the pie that are Facebook and Google. Hell, Yahoo Mail even beats the local newspaper in the market he analysed.

I will take this one step further, which is why I think that Pat is right to compare sales decline in print with subscriber growth for Netflix; in the attention economy, journalism competes against everything that competes for people’s time and attention. What this means is that we’re moving from mass media to relevant media. Netflix created a model that killed the local video store by mailing DVDs without a hard return date and then pivoting to take advantage of digital delivery.

How does journalism compete against Netflix, XBox, Apple TV and YouTube? Mahendra Palsule said in looking at this shift that we should move from “information overload” to “filtered, relevant information”.

If you want this shift put more in a journalistic context, journalists need to add value. Journalists need to move away from thinking that it’s not old unless it’s told by me, to thinking about whether the story is relevant to their audiences and how they add value. In a world swimming in information, the who/what/where/when has become commoditised, Jim Moroney, the publisher and CEO of the Dallas Morning News, says. Now he adds that journalists need to provide PICA – Perspective, Interpretation, Context, Analysis. At the International Symposium of Online Journalism in Austin this spring, he said that the more relevant your content is the higher the value. Relevant, differentiated content is more valuable and more valued by audiences, he says, and people might just be willing to pay this content. (Special thanks to @cindyroyal for collecting Moroney’s comments on Storify).

It’s the editorial side of reach versus each, which Alan Mutter highlighted in terms of advertising earlier this year. Smart content sprinkled with a little technology can help deliver more valuable, more relevant content to audiences struggling to sift through all of the choices for news, information, entertainment and distraction.

I also believe that active social media strategies where journalists and editors engage their audiences help build loyalty. Relationship and relevance are key to rebuilding journalism’s relationship with the public. Competition is fierce in the attention economy, but I believe that journalism can compete and win.

Below is my full talk about how journalism can succeed in the battle for attention. I delivered this talk at Digital Directions in Sydney Australia in 2011.