links for 2007-06-29

What does your news organisation do that no one else does?

I originally thought of this question as: What does your news organisation do better than everyone else? But then, most news organisations would interpret that question as about quality and quickly answer that their writers are better or they have higher production standards. That’s not what I meant, so I changed the question. What is it that you do that is unique or what could you do that none of your competitors are doing?

People are drowning in information, drowning in media choices. Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures called it ‘the looming attention crisis’. Umair Haque puts it this way:

Across consumer markets, attention is becoming the scarcest – and so most strategically vital – resource in the value chain. Attention scarcity is fundamentally reshaping the economics of most industries it touches; beginning with the media industry.

Umair says that the media companies that succeed will be the ones that allocate attention most efficiently, not necessarily the ones that produce most efficiently.

I’m thinking about the economics of the business after reading an article in the Press Gazette comparing the economics of the newspaper business and comparing it to the online business. The web revenue threat is no myth, or to put the terms in dollars and cents:

In the US, digital media consultant Vin Crosbie has calculated that
each printed newspaper reader is worth between $500 and $1,200 a year
in terms of reader revenues and advertising cash.

By contrast, Crosbie suggests that the average online newspaper reader is worth perhaps $8 a year.

That is why newspapers are trying to grow their online revenue as quickly as possible. This isn’t simply about declining readership. Dan Gillmor put it very succinctly at the NMK Forum:

Advertising is being systematically separated from journalism because
there are companies that do advertising better than journalism

Peter Kirwan wrote in that article in the Press Gazette, “According to McKinsey, for example, US newspapers lost $1.9bn in classified ad revenues to the web between 1996 and 2004.” He also quotes Jeff Jarvis:

I think that you have to boil down to your assets. Put your resources behind what makes you special and more valuable.

I couldn’t agree with Jeff more, although Peter assumes that he is politely advocating mass redundancies. I don’t actually think that Jeff is simply advocating huge job cuts. (Disclosure: I used to work at Advance Internet when Jeff was president and creative director.) I think Jeff is right that the days of ‘big revenues and big costs’ are ending.

I think back to the US. Thousands of journalists attend the nominating conventions for the political parties, actually more journalists than delegates. At some point, newspapers and television stations will have to ask themselves what value is added to have their reporter or camera crew there. In the UK, the redundant coverage is justified because newspapers have more of an individual voice or point of view. But with morning and evening freesheets in London, is an individual voice and a point of view enough of a unique selling point? As budgets are squeezed, there will have to be rethink of what is essential for bespoke coverage and what is better done through aggregation and contextualising.

This is all about attention and one thing that gets my attention is relevance. I think this subtle statement from Steve Yelvington says it all:

Readership declines are very real, and they’re way ahead of circulation declines.

Personally, I’m so time-starved that I need boring information and
really don’t read newspapers for their scintillating writing. I just
need to digest a lot of facts quickly. I can skim RSS feeds and come
away quite quickly with the papers’ positions if I really want to. But
normally on my way to work, I just listen to the NPR hourly summary and
New York Times Front page podcasts (about 8 minutes for the both of
them) while skimming headlines on Avant Go from the Washington Post,
the BBC, the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian and CNet.Brand loyalty? You gotta be kidding. I search and sift and don’t look to one ‘brand’ for my news.

I go back and forth about having Sky News or News 24 on in the
mornings. The channels are OK for background noise to catch the odd thing I’m interested in, but if I could find a good
morning on demand audio or video news service, I’d switch the TV off in
a minute. It takes too long for me to find out anything that I’m
actually interested in.

However, I’m not going to extrapolate my information consumption to everyone because I’m a journalist, and part of my job is sifting through a lot of information. However, I’m not alone in being very busy and not having as much time as I once did for news and current affairs.

I think we as journalists have to be honest with ourselves. We need to stop demanding that we’re relevant and prove our relevance to our readers and viewers. We need to do more explaining to help give readers a sense of why world events are relevant to them and not just assume that they see the connections. It’s a bit cliche, but context is becoming king. Dan Gillmor also said at the NMK Forum that he thinks the media can play a role in helping people navigate all of this, in helping them become more media literate in this hyper-saturated media landscape.

Personally, I also see an opportunity in Dan’s news as conversation model.

  1. By allowing the people formerly known as the audience to ask questions of us and our sources, we become an indispensable source of news and information.
  2. We don’t have to assume that we’re staying relevant to our readers and viewers, if we share control with them, we know we are remaining relevant.
  3. We can tap the wisdom in the crowds to make our journalism better.

This is one possible future for journalism. It is the journalism of social media, and it is part of the future that I’m embracing.

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links for 2007-06-27

links for 2007-06-26

The day the (internet) music died?

Pandora goes silentSuw and I listen to lots of podcasts and online radio and use services like Pandora and We are supporters of Soma FM because we love the music especially Secret Agent. But today, Pandora, Soma and a host of other online radio sites including heavy hitters like MTV Radio, Launchcast, Real’s Rhapsody and Live365 are silent. Why? They might be priced out of the market by dramatic changes in music licencing.

As Rusty says on the Soma FM site:

Royalty rates for webcasters have been drastically increased by a
recent ruling and are due to go into effect on July 15 (retroactive to
Jan 1, 2006!). SomaFM will be liable for $600,000 in additional
royalties for 2006, and over $500,000 for the first half of 2007. As of
July 15th, we will owe $1.1 million dollars in additional royalties.

Tim Westergreen at Pandora put it this way:

Ignoring all rationality and responding only to the lobbying of the
RIAA, an arbitration committee in Washington DC has drastically
increased the licensing fees Internet radio sites must pay to stream
songs. Pandora’s fees will triple, and are retroactive for eighteen
months! Left unchanged by Congress, every day will be like today as
internet radio sites start shutting down and the music dies.

This Day of Silence is similar to another successful event in 2002 that led to the Small Webcaster Settlement Act for the period of 1998-2005.

When I first heard about this proposed rate increase, I thought back to something that Ben Hammersley said at the Guardian Changing Media conference earlier this year that entertainmentt industry was acting like someone who had just got a Valentine’s card from their lover (music and movie fans) and was ripping that card up in her face.

I’m a music fan, not a thief. I pay for music, and the music industry is yet again punishing me, a music fan. What business survives and thrives by protecting a business model by punishing the very fans that support that business model? Loyal fans will travel hundreds of miles for a concert, hunt through stacks of vinyl for that out of print record and pay money for music. Fans might not pay the margins for a download that the music industry was used to in the era of the CD, but that is an issue of margins, not passion.

But after covering the music industry years, I don’t see them letting go anytime soon. Hey, compadres back in the States, go ahead and send your member of Congress a loud and clear message. A little democracy in action. It worked back in 2002, and hopefully, it will work again. If it doesn’t, it won’t be just one day of radio silence on the internet.

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Newsvine and news as a social object

Thinking back to NMK, Dan Gillmor showed off Newsvine as an example of the transition from the Daily We to the Daily Me. Newsvine user Aine asked me what I thought about the site.

I’ve had an account on Newsvine for more than a year now and visit the site from time to time. I can’t say that I’m a frequent or heavy user. When I first opened the account last year, I found it difficult to understand its purpose. It didn’t have the clarity of sites such as Techmeme, Tailrank, Digg or Reddit, but I’ll be the first to cede that Newsvine was trying to do a lot more than simply recommend and vote on stories.

Thinking back to Jyri of Jaiku’s presentation at NMK, initially I thought the site wasn’t clear enough in giving users visual cues as to what to do. As Jyri said:

Define your verbs that your users perform on the objects.

However, the site has come a long way in the last year. The visual cues are stronger. The navigation and purpose seem clearer, and I’ve been impressed with the community building that the Newsvine team has done. There are few news organisations who really demonstrate the understanding of the outreach necessary to boot-strap a community site. News organisations usually focus on the content and not the community. Community doesn’t come free.

Newsvine isn’t like most news community sites, but it has features that more news sites should adopt. To encourage participation and community, news sites need to highlight the participation to encourage participation.

Another thing that has impressed me about Newsvine is how quickly the site iterates. They are constantly pushing forward new features, and for the most part, the features they have launched are focused on driving participation: The groups, the use of attention data showing what topics are hot and the live updates that make the site seem alive.

I still think that the site might be trying to do too much. I think they could do more with less. I still think that the visual cues might be stronger to guide users through the site. Maybe the site itself needs to clarify its focus a little more, but the site is a unique experiment in news as a social object.

As I said, I’m not a heavy Newsvine user. These are observations more as an observer of the Newsvine community than a member of it. I’d be interested in hearing the experience of others have had with the site.

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