The Washington Post Believes its Publishing Platform is a $100m Business

The Washington Post / iPad by Esther Vargas, Flickr

It really is international in my media newsletter today with stories Ireland’s INM being bought by Belgian media house Mediahuis and Nine in Oz selling off a chunk of Fairfax’s old local newspaper empire.

But the top story today is about how the Washington Post thinks that Arc, its publishing platform, is a $100 m revenue generator. That’s pretty amazing when you think of how much usually gets spent on content management systems so thinking of content management as a revenue generator rather than a cost centre.

I just started the Knight Centre’s Product Management for Newsroom Leaders course so products and managing them are at the forefront of my mind so it probably isn’t a surprise that this quote from Shailesh Prakash, the Washington Post’s Chief Information Officer and Chief Product Officer, jumped out at me:

In the beginning, it was quite confusing because we spent a great deal of time trying to define what a product is. We asked ourselves questions such as, “Who is the owner of the homepage?” However, I believe those types of questions are irrelevant because the key to successful product development is to partner with the Sales, Engineering, and News teams to come up with products that delight our readers, advertisers, or subscribers. In the best case, we are delighting all three of them.

How The Washington Post Made Its Publishing Platform A Revenue Driver, by Peter High, Forbes contributor

Developing products that delight all of our key constituents. That’s a pretty great goal.

If you’ve got a story that you think I should put in the newsletter, especially from outside of the US, @ me on Twitter @kevglobal. And if you aren’t a subscriber, you can get this everyday in your inbox by signing up here.

How Remain can win the EU elections

The EU elections are coming up on Thursday 23 May, and a lot of Remainers seem to be feeling dejected. The current polling has Nigel Farage’s Brexit party doing really well at 28% of the vote, and the LibDems, TIG, and the Greens splitting the Remain vote. Under these circumstances, it seems unfair to view the EU elections as a pseudo-referendum on Brexit, but there’s no doubt that people will do exactly that. But how the hell can Remain have any sort of impact on the vote given that the deck is stacked against us?

Well, good news first: The numbers are actually on our side.

The last EU elections were held in 2014, and the turnout was risible: 16,545,762 people, or just 35.6% of the electorate. Compare this to the Remain vote in the EU referendum, which was 16,141,241, just 404,521 fewer people than the entire turnout in 2014.

Looking at the results of the 2014 EU elections, a quick count of parties that are now explicitly or implicitly (ie Labour) pro-Brexit shows that there were about 13 million people willing to vote for parties that now support leaving the EU, and about 3 million people for Remain. Basically, the anti-EU parties have always been really, really good at getting out their vote.

But there are now a lot of Remain voters who are energised and passionate about the EU, and we need all of them to get out and vote, so every one of the 16.1 million who voted for Remain in the EU referendum, everyone who’s come of age since 2016, everyone who signed the Revoke petition, everyone who went on the People’s Vote March. Everyone who cares about our future needs to make sure they are registered, make sure they know where your polling station is, and get out and vote.

Traditionally, we British haven’t given a fuck about the EU elections, but this election is one of the most important of our time. We must show the EU that we value it, and that means getting out and voting en masse. We have the numbers, we can really do this.

If we don’t, then it’s not going to be good for the Remain parties. I have heard a lot of people saying something along the lines on “the Remain vote can’t be split because EU elections have proportional representation”. But that’s not really true.

The EU election in the UK, except for Northern Ireland, is run using the d’Hondt System, which is like the bastard child of First Past The Post and Single Transferrable Vote. Northern Ireland actually has STV.

Under d’Hondt, each party puts forward a list of candidates in order of preference, and each voter votes for a single party’s list. The party with the most votes gets the first seat, which goes to the first candidate on their list. Their votes are then divided by the number of seats they’ve got plus one, in this case two. The party that then has the highest number of votes gets the next seat, and that goes to that party’s first candidate (or the first party’s second candidate).

The UK is split into regions with varying numbers of candidates, from 3 to 10:

East Midlands: 5
East of England: 7
London: 8
North East England: 3
North West England: 8
South East England: 10
South West England: 6
West Midlands: 7
Yorkshire and the Humber: 6
Wales: 4
Scotland: 6
Northern Ireland: 3

So if you’re in a region with only 3 seats, then your party is going to need to get a lot of votes in order to win a seat.

Let’s illustrate this with the latest polling date from YouGov, which won’t provide an accurate picture of the eventual vote because it won’t take regional variations into account, nor will it take smaller parties into account either. But, still, it will illustrate the impact of a split Remain vote.

So, the full list of voting intention percentages is:

Conservative: 13%
Labour: 22%
Liberal Democrats: 7%
UKIP: 5%
Green: 10%
Change UK TIG: 10%
Brexit: 28%
Other: 1%

And under the d’Hondt system, the seats won from this would shake out as:

Conservative: 10
Labour: 22
Liberal Democrats: 0 or 1
Green: 8
Change UK TIG: 5
Brexit: 27 or 28
Other: 0

Because, with these numbers, in the final round the LibDems and Brexit have the same number of votes, so the final seat could go to either one of them.

If the LibDems got their one seat, then Leave parties would win 46% of the vote but 50.7% of the seats (37 seats), whilst the Remain parties would win 32% of the vote but only 19.2% of the seats (14 seats), with Labour vacillating in the middle with 22% of the vote but 30.1% of the seats (22 seats). Because who the hell knows whether Labour is Remain or Leave at this point.

If Labour came out for Remain in the end, then we’d see Remain win 54% of the vote but 49.3% of the seats (36 seats) vs Leave taking 46% of the vote but 50.7% of the seats (46 seats). If Labour came out for Leave, Remain would get 32% of the votes, but 19.7% of the seats (14), with Leave taking 68% of the votes but 80.8% of the seats (59 seats).

UPDATE 30 April: Labour have decided today that they will be pursuing their “alternative” Brexit, which is just as unrealistic as the Tories’ version, so they have essentially come out for Leave.

This means that, with current polling, we’re looking at Remain getting less than 20% of the seats on about 32% of the votes. This is not good.

The d’Hondt system does not apportion seats in a perfectly proportional manner, penalising smaller parties and advantaging the bigger parties. So not only is it possible to split the Remain vote, doing so will severely damage the number of seats we can win.

But, at this point it’s worth repeating the fact that there are enough Remain voters, we just have to get out and vote.

It’s also worth pointing out that the pollsters might well be overestimating the Brexit Party’s support, so the situation may not be as dire as it looks. But that’s no reason to sit on our laurels. Never has it been more important to get people out to vote.

Small footnote on Labour and tactical voting: Unless Labour come out firmly as Remain, committed to at the very least a People’s Vote, then it is far, far too risky to vote for them in the hope that they might at some point do the right thing. If Labour remain this unreliable and feckless, then the only choice Remain voters have is to vote for the most popular Remain party in their region, even if it’s the LibDems. I know a lot of people still hate the LibDems on principal, but Brexit is a way bigger issue than tuition fees ever was and in this instance, if they are the most likely to get a good showing in your region, then it’s important to vote for them.

TikTok Explained and an Indie Media Collective in Boston

An unsettled cat on TikTok,

How much have you been hearing about TikTok? It has exploded on the scene, and everywhere I turn, I seem to hear about it. What is TikTok? NPR has a really good Q&A about this latest, hottest social media platform, and it is especially popular with really young audiences. My takeaways:

  • Facebook is for Grandma.
  • Snapchat? “Over it.”
  • ” TikTok is kind of a culmination of every viral video app that’s existed in the last five, maybe even 10 years – kind of going back to early YouTube. And it’s comedy. It’s music. It’s sometimes makeup and sometimes monologuing. And it’s a weird hodgepodge of every sort of viral thing that could happen in a short-form video app.” says Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone magazine.
  • ” But when I showed TikTok to my 20-something producers, they thought that they were too old for it. It feels distinctly for the very young,” Spanos said.

Moving on from TikTok another feature in my newsletter today, I also found a lot of great insights in this overview of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism . Chris Faraone, one of the co-founders, described BINJ like this:

Basically, I wanted to create a miniature ProPublica, a collaborative, free-floating incubator that would be a Make-A-Wish Foundation for all of these news outlets to help them do what they couldn’t afford to do.

Chris Faraon, co-founder, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism

This is a really good, actionable look at the kind of support that this group is providing for local news producers. It is giving small local publishers some room to experiment and also building deeper connections to users. The other thing that really stood out for me what that the institute helps small indies in choosing what they cover and what they don’t cover.

As usual, if you’ve got a story that you think would be good in the newsletter, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal. If you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, it’s easy to do so here.

10 Journalism Newsletters You Should Subscribe to, Make that 11

Pamphleteer, WikiMedia Commons

I’m closing out this week in a totally meta way in my newsletter: 10 other journalism newsletters that you should check out, well, apart from mine.

But I also want to start something and post the top five stories based on what you have been clicking through to in my newsletter.

  1. Like most media, podcasting is pivoting to paid (with complications)
    From Max Willens, Digiday
  2. 7 reasons a freelance journalist should start a podcast, by my friend
    Suchandrika Chakrabarti, on Muck Rack
  3. Why platforms like Facebook and Apple struggle to boost local news | What’s New in Publishing | Digital Publishing News, a great piece by Simon Owens, on What’s News in Publishing, where I also have been known to write.
  4. The Telegraph’s roadmap to 1m paying subscribers and financial sustainability, by Ian Burrell in The Drum
  5. How publishers are using Snapchat’s curated stories tool for breaking news and more, by Kerry Flynn, in Digiday

I hope that you have a great weekend, and remember, if you have any good stories that I should include in the newsletter, let me know @kevglobal on Twitter.

Which came first? The decline in civic engagement or the decline in newspapers?

Death of Print, Darius Norvilas, Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

In my newsletter today, the top story looks at the impact of the decline in local news outlets in the US. The statistic that one in five Americans now lack access to a local source of news is not news, but what we’re now hearing is research about what that means and how it is impacting local communities.

I edited local newspapers for a very brief period of my career – about 21 months. I joke that I survived the six rounds of cuts but not the seventh. Those cuts included simple budget cuts, hiring freezes, a major reorganisation and an early retirement scheme.

I actually really enjoyed working in local media, despite the incredible pressure of trying to expand two newspapers amidst an industry collapse. I managed the newspapers in two towns in Wisconsin: Sheboygan, population 50,000ish, and Manitowoc, with a population of around 35,000. For the first year, I felt like an old-fashioned small-town editor. In Sheboygan, where I lived, people would stop me on the street, just to talk because I was the editor of the newspaper . But the cuts drove home just how badly the newspaper industry had shrunk. In 2005, the newspaper in Manitowoc had about 12 editorial staff. When I arrived in 2014, the local staff was still about nine. Today, it’s four.

During my time in local newspapers, one particular question gnawed at me: Was one factor in the decline in newspapers down to a decline in local civic engagement or was the decline in local civic engagement driving the decline in newspapers?

Research is now beginning to answer that question. Take this from an article in Governing:

According to a study published in November in the Journal of Communicationvoters rely more on national outlets — and become more partisan — as local newspapers decline or close.

“The more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government,” says Johanna Dunaway, professor of communications at Texas A&M University and coauthor of the study.

When No News Isn’t Good News: What the Decline of Newspapers Means for Government , Alan Greenblatt, Governing

The article goes on to highlight an increase in partisanship as the news becomes “nationalized”. Again, I saw this at the local level. People didn’t really distinguish between the local newspaper, the New York Times or cable news. It was all just one undifferentiated mass for them. People would call me up as the editor and shout at me about things in the “the media”, usually cable news – CNN or Fox, depending on their politics. I tried to explain to them that we didn’t have anything to do with that, were owned by entirely separate companies and that our focus was the local community, not commenting on the latest hot issue in Washington.

At the same time, they were very disengaged from local politics. In a conversation with our city clerk in Sheboygan, who helped run our local elections, she made the point that in the previous spring’s election we only had a turnout of 7 percent. She made the quite valid point that it cost the same to run an election whether the turnout was 7 percent or 70, but it was really shocking to see how few people made the effort to vote.

When local people did talk about politics, particularly on Facebook, it was frustrating to see them grouse rather immaturely about local government, rather than engaging with issues in a substantive way. More than that, they often made it clear that they were doing this from the sidelines and not as active voters or civic participants. It was civics as a spectator sport.

The article in Governing does a good job of pulling together the threads of a lot of research showing the negative consequences of this loss of coverage including a decline in local government accountability and even negative environmental impacts. But this kind of local reporting is really expensive and no one seems willing to pay. I had several ideas on how to begin rebuilding local reporting and, although my first year in Sheboygan gave me the opportunity to start putting some those into practice, the continued cuts and reorganisations made it impossible to capitalise on those early gains.

What we’re losing with respect to local journalism is hurting our society. And we need not just creative ways to start rebuilding that. We should all acknowledge that these organisations will not cut their way to growth or cut their way back to meaningful, engaged local news outlets. We have to find a way for this to work, for the sake of our communities and our citizens.

How publishers are experimenting with TikTok, the latest hot short video app

@pjf the Mad Scientist, by Stephen Edmonds, from Flickr

Publisher and broadcasters are always looking for ways to reach young audiences, the latest way to do that is the short-form video app, TikTok. In my international media newsletter today, the top story is from a look at how publishers are trialling “fun” programming on the platform. Digiday looks at the audience TikTok boasts:

According to TikTok’s pitch deck to U.S. agencies, about 60% of its monthly active users in the U.S. are between 16 and 24 years old. Also like Snapchat, users are heavily engaged with the app, spending 46 minutes per day on TikTok, on average. While TikTok doesn’t have a way for publishers to directly monetize on the app, such as through sharing ad revenue, some publishers are still choosing to experiment.

How publishers are using TikTok, the latest hot app, by Kerry Flynn, Digiday

Kerry questions about how much resources early adopters including NBC and ESPN can afford to throw at a platform that doesn’t have a clear way to directly monetise attention. That question alone shows the shift from the strategy a few years back of building an audience and worrying about monetisation later to thinking about the revenue strategy off the bat.

Other topics in the newsletter today are:

Publishers need to prepare for mobile app resurgence. Filloux says large players are preparing to dominate the subscription battlefield. Podcasters need to experiment with new revenue models. Brit & Co is the latest millennial digital brand in trouble.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here. 

Duct Tape and Spit: The pivot to paid content highlights publishers’ ad hoc tech stack

Duct tape moving van, U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

As someone who has cobbled together a lot of third party tools and down-right messy kludges to do something editorially on a tight deadline, I resemble the criticism in the top story in my newsletter today.

It was and still is very satisfying to use a third-party service, WordPress plug-in or some weird template you found on a random site to deliver something digitally interesting, but there are costs to taking shortcuts like this. And this is becoming obvious as strategies shift from ad-focused to reader revenue-led.

But here is the rub: To properly implement some of these systems takes a lot of cash, cash which small and medium publishers simply don’t have. From the article in Digiday:

Google’s and Facebook’s subscription products also remain too cumbersome for small or midsize publishers. One year after launching Subscribe with Google with 17 publisher partners, around four dozen publishers have begun integrating the product into their operations, but fewer than 20 have fully implemented it.

In pivoting to paid, publishers run into tech headaches, by Max Willens, Digiday

Also today, we look at other ways that content publishers are trying to find a path to sustainability, whether that is through paid content for podcasters, foundation support for local journalism or content marketing for businesses and brands. Here’s just a sample:

How to stop being a ‘carrier’ in the age of misinformation. The agenda of a free press? A functioning democracy. Buzzy, premium podcast service stumbles out of the gates. Seattle newspaper partners with local foundation for funding.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here

Indian Election Fact-Checkers: ‘sifting grains of sand from a toxic beach’

A pile of sand with a sifting frame, by Peter Griffin,

Happy Easter Monday for my readers in the UK. For the rest of us, it’s back to work.

And if you think you have it bad at work, give a moment’s thought to the small army of fact-checkers working to try to root out misinformation in the Indian election. Bloomberg looks at one of the groups contracted by Facebook to help monitor misinformation cross 10 of the countries almost two dozen languages.

A visit to Boom’s offices makes clear that the scale of Facebook’s response in India so far isn’t enough. The small team appears capable and hardworking almost to a fault, but given the scale of the problem, they might as well be sifting grains of sand from a toxic beach. “What can 11 people do,” says Boom Deputy Editor Karen Rebelo, “when hundreds of millions of first-time smartphone-internet users avidly share every suspect video and fake tidbit that comes their way?”

How 11 People Are Trying to Stop Fake News in the World’s Largest Election, by
Saritha Rai, Bloomberg

In addition to that, we look at just one of the many tributes that poured in to slain Northern Irish journalism dynamo Lyra McKee. This one is from my friend and one of her journalism professors, Paul Bradshaw. And there is more in my international media newsletter today.

Germany’s Axel Springer continues to battle ad blockers. Why is LinkedIn producing original journalism? Is Google creating an Internet of Places? The history of influencers, from Shakespeare to today. Why newsroom metrics should have an expiration date.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here

Can the ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ fix disinformation?

eam members assemble a puzzle during the problem solving phase of the "Whacky Relay" at the base track 2 May.
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Team members assemble a puzzle during the problem solving phase of the “Whacky Relay” at the base track 2 May. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Dennis Rogers)

Thank goodness it’s Good Friday. In today’s newsletter, I highlight a project from my friend Claire Wardle that she hopes will allow researchers a new tool to fight disinformation. She is currently the director of Civic, the Coalition to Integrate Values Into the Information Commons , and she has proposed a project that she called:

“a Wikipedia of Trust,” a back-end contributor model where regular people could volunteer to flag, decipher, and catalog fake memes and bot activity, and add crucial cultural context to images and information that might be a zombie rumor.

“A Wild Plan to Crowdsource the Fight Against Misinformation”, Wired, by Emily Dreyfuss

It is the information equivalent of capturing virulent memes for study. The challenge as Claire highlights is that disinformation is moving from being out in the wild on the open web – or what remains of it – and public social networks to places hidden by algorithms and inside messaging platforms where they can spread in ways resistant to observation and rebuttal.

I also highlight CNN’s use of a new Snapchat service, called Curated Stories to cover breaking news. The tool has helped lure CNN back into Snap’s Discover. Will this be enough to stem Snap’s slide? I doubt it because what might be useful for media won’t necessarily address the fundamental user issues that Snap has.

Apart from those two big stories, we also have:

The ad tech bubble may be about to burst. US newspapers are struggling for cash in the rush consolidation. Sift launches ‘news therapy’ app. New media investment fund for LatAm. UK Telegraph aims for 1m subs.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here

The Pivot to Paid in Podcasting and Vulture Fund, Alden Global, Under Investigation

The front view of what once was the the USA Today/Gannett Building in McLean, Virginia. It still houses USAToday and Gannett, but also Tegna, the former broadcasting division of Gannett, which was spun off in 2015.

The front view of what once was the the USA Today/Gannett Building in McLean, Virginia. It still houses USAToday and Gannett, but also Tegna, the former broadcasting division of Gannett, which was spun off in 2015. Photo: Patrick Neil, Wikimedia Commons

Right, it’s been a busy day in my newsroom as we handle the release of the Mueller Report, redacted, but still full of interesting tidbits. If you want to get a searchable version, let me recommend going to The Bulwark, an interesting site and podcast from some Never Trump US conservatives.

Now back to what we do here: Filter out the daily news and noise and get to the international media intelligence that you need. On days like this, it is actually harder. (Tomorrow will be even more challenging, but I’ve already got some great reads queued up.) I have two top stories in today’s newsletter.

  1. What the pivot to paid content means for podcasting , Digiday
  2. And news that the vulture fund, Alden Global Capital, wanting to buy Gannett (a former employer) is under federal investigation for investing nearly $250 m of its newspaper employee money in its own funds. (WaPo $$)

In addition to my two top stories, we also have:

The science of why humans are so susceptible to misinformation. How anti-Muslim disinformation spread after the Notre Dame fire. Journalists have nothing to fear from AI in the newsroom. Chinese Android apps from big developer committed ad fraud.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here