Wired’s EIC Nick Thompson talks one year of the paywall with Media Voices podcast

Paywall, by Giovanni Saccone, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello, more new subscribers! It’s great to have you.

In my international media newsletter today, the top story is the latest podcast by my friends at the Media Voices podcast and their interview with Wired Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Thompson.

I am a big fan of him and his work, and I have been following what he has done since he was the digital editor at The New Yorker. One of my favourite quotes from him in a Digiday podcast is that they don’t try to do everything that is possible in digital at The New Yorker but every digital thing that they do is The New Yorker.

Thompson now is the top editor at Wired. He was asked: Why print? “There are wonderful things about a print magazine,” Thompson said, but he said that that as a group, they are mostly focused on digital and started making that transition 15 years ago.

He reprised his recent look back at one year behind a paywall at Wired, which we highlighted here on the newsletter. One thing he noted is that advertising still delivers the vast majority of revenue at Wired.

And he talked about his surprise at the stories that drove the most subscriptions. The long-meaty features drove a lot of subscriptions, but he was surprised that the 65th most read feature about a genius neuroscientist that is driving AI. It didn’t deliver a lot of traffic by their standards, but it was the second most driver of subs last year. But good listicles also drove subs as well.

“In almost every category of content, the best stuff we did drove subscriptions,” he said. “It was a little surprising but also heartening.”

That’s a great insight. It’s not necessarily the format but the execution.

Again, welcome to the new subscribers, and I would love to borrow some of your attention. Drop me an email (there is an address easily findable on this site) or send it via Twitter to @kevglobal If you still haven’t subscribed, you can easily do so on my profile page on Nuzzel.

Washington Post amps up Arc with subscription tools

The Washington Post is supercharging its platform Arc, with a big marketing and development push. Photo: 1941 Willys Americar 441 Coupe Hotrod, by Sicnag, from Flickr

Hello new subscribers! Welcome from Suchandrika Chakrabarti‘s great post on newsletters that freelancers should subscribe to.

Topping today’s newsletter is a story about new subscription features that the Washington Post is building into its CMS, Arc. As I highlighted in a recent newsletter, the Washington Post sees Arc as business that can grow to $100m as it sells the CMS to other publishers. This feels like a major push for Arc.

Also in the newsletter:

If you are just seeing this and haven’t subscribed to the newsletter, sign up here. And please, if you spot a good story – especially a good media story outside of the US – let me know on Twitter @kevglobal.

Choosing the right membership (or subscription) model

Members only, friendly yet authoritative sign, by John Bell, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

As I mentioned yesterday, my friend Suchandrika Chakrabarti has an excellent overview for freelancers on writing your own bio through writing ones for her first year of being freelance.

In addition to that post, the other highlight from my newsletter today is an excellent look at the hottest issues in media right now: Membership and subscriptions. It’s a comprehensive look at various subscription models and services, but they also talk about a membership model in Albany New York. The newspaper there has tiers, “providing options for the customer”, according to Brad Hunt sales and retention manager for Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. “Instead of losing them outright or feeling like we were forcing them to go to a higher frequency in order to get to that gold status, we wanted to provide the means for the customer to choose,” he said.

More tomorrow, and remember, if you want to highlight a story for me, let me know on Twitter @kevglobal.

Does your journalism solution scale down? Or why local journalism is dying

When I was with Gannett, my regional president nominated me to take part in the Newsroom of the Future process, and it was quite an honour to be nominated after only a couple of months with the organisation. Gannett classified its properties into five tiers, and I was the only person in the room responsible for managing papers in tier four and five, meaning its smallest papers. Everyone else, to my knowledge, was working for a top 35 market out of Gannett’s, then, almost 100 properties. I remember one meeting in Cincinnati, and I projected my organisational chart on the screen. There were audible gasps in the room as they realised how few bodies were in the newsrooms at small sites like mine. And to the organisation’s credit, a senior member of the leadership reminded everyone in the room that half of Gannett’s properties operated at that scale.

In that same meeting, I remember clearly as solutions were mooted that I said that I worried that they simply didn’t scale down to the hyperlocal journalism at small sites like mine. The solutions being suggested didn’t take into account the physical distances involved and the unique nature of the communities. There is more to write about from that meeting, but the overriding sense was that the solutions scaled up so they would scale down as well.

I bring up this up because so much of the discussion about journalism is focused on the question: Does it scale up? I want to applaud Sam Ford for asking these questions about scale and championing other experiments that focus on scaling down. In a media world where scale has become everything and even if the shine has come off the scale play in 2017, the reality is that national players like the New York Times and the Washington Post might be turning the corner, but that isn’t the case at regional or local newspapers in the US. If anything 2017, was not a year of rebuilding but another year of grinding losses, brutal consolidation, and heart-wrenching cuts.

What is interesting in the process driven ideas that Sam talks about is how civically grounded they are. I think the future is going to be small-scale indie digital shops like the ones represented by LION Publishers, but I also see the solution coming from civic partnerships. I am also on the board of my local library, and I do wonder if the mission of libraries as local information hubs might be reimagined to fill in some of the information and civic engagement gaps left in news deserts.

Journalism and innovation: “Never outsource your future”

 Piechota quotes Clayton Christensen, the esteemed chronicler of corporate change, saying: “Never outsource the future.”

Ken Doctor does a great summary of a report by Grzegorz Piechota for the INMA. I met Grzegorz Piechota in Prague years ago now, probably 2007. We were both presenting at a small workshop for journalists hosted by the Transitions Online.

Rather than doing a full-blown summary of a summary, I’ll just highlight this because it is so relevant and important.

Greg doesn’t pull punches, and he is saying something that needs to be said but that almost no staffer or senior manager who wants to keep their job can say:

Today we pay the price for the sins of the past. Users are destroying publishers’ revenues with adblockers. Internet giants have sniffed the opportunity to drag us into their walled gardens and eat us alive. It’s high time for news publishers to give strategic priority to mobile and improve the user experience…Can we stop discussing in our newsrooms whether every reporter should be on Facebook or Twitter and move the debate on social media to the boardroom?

I know of a major news company in which the staff have to use ad blockers so that they can simply do their jobs and manage their sites. If your staff cannot use your own site without destroying your business model, does that take anyone even a second to realise how ridiculously broken your user experience and ultimately your business is?

The time for half measures is long past. This is a senior board level discussion, and the leadership and managers need to start listening to people on staff who are saying these uncomfortable things. I’m making quite a tidy living at the moment telling companies things they need to hear, that many of their staffs are telling but that they wouldn’t countenance from a staff member or members of their management team.

We didn’t need to get to this moment a moment when major companies are going to go to the wall because they couldn’t deal with the reality that was so clearly before them. Instead, they chose to listen to the people who whispered that it would all be OK in their ears. To steal one more line from Greg. He quotes a Polish proverb:

When someone tells you that you’re drunk, she might be wrong. When three different people tell you, you’d better shut up and go to bed.

The industry is drunk. It needs to wake up and come back with a plan to deal with 21st Century realities. Build a digital business or get ready for the deadpool.

Content metrics aren’t bad, measuring the wrong things is bad

My friend George Brock has taken aim at Trinity Mirror‘s Newsroom 3.1 plan on The Conversation:

Quite apart from the limp, tired name of “Newsroom 3.1”, the idea of trying to improve performance with detailed numbers of “hit rates” or “impact ratings” has been tried and doesn’t work.

Later he adds:

One way of helping – rather than scaring – Trinity Mirror journalists might be to concentrate on demonstrating that what they produce is valued by people in Birmingham and Coventry. Simple clicks are evidence of passing interest or curiosity, not of a piece of journalism being valued.

Ouch. I agree with George that volume numbers of alone – clicks and even unique users – aren’t going to help us grow our audiences.

Like Trinity Mirror, Gannett, where I work as an executive editor, has also been training our journalists on how to use metrics. It is part of a larger strategy to be more audience focused. But fortunately, the training goes beyond volume metrics to include engagement and loyalty metrics. The main question that we are trying to answer is how do we produce something that is so valuable to our communities that they will pay for it? Just this week, I pointed out to one of my staff that her story wasn’t just getting a lot of views or clicks, but that it also was having higher than average engagement. People were spending time with her story.

Suw and I often say in our training and consulting that metrics aren’t bad but be very careful about what you are measuring because you might end up optimising for the wrong thing. Suw says that we often fail to measure what is important because we focus on measuring what is easy.

Measuring impact and what what our audiences value is challenging, but we have to do it. And we have to get smarter in how we do it.

ICYMI – Gannett at #ONA14: Data-driven insights with Chartbeat

I missed the Online News Association conference last week because I had just returned from Asia speaking at the WAN-IFRA India conference and doing some data journalism seminars with journalists in India and Singapore.

However, my Gannett colleagues were at ONA14 in force, and they highlighted how we’re using analytics tools like Chartbeat to make sure that our journalism reaches the widest audience. We’re doing that with a mix of dayparting and content programming to make sure that we have the right content for the right audience at the right time of day, and we’re also driving an audience focus in our newsrooms that delivers real public service and engagement.

Kevin Hogan, who is the digital editor for some Gannett sites in New York, created a great Storify summary of the discussion at the Gannett Salon about the insights that Chartbeat is providing us.

A few highlights:

  • Only about four percent of readers who come to a story from a link shared on social media will return to the homepage of the site.
  • At Gannett, we get our highest loyal traffic at 9 am in the morning. This is definitely true at my sites. Traffic starts building at about 6:30 to 7 a.m. and then starts a gentle glide path downward through the day after 10 a.m.
  • Readers use tablets and mobile more in the evening. Our desktop/mobile mix shifts to mobile between 4 to 6 p.m., and it is driven almost entirely by Facebook.

Hacking: Members of the Fourth Estate are not exempt from the law

After the phone- and email-hacking and the illegal payments to police and other public officials scandal currently engulfing the British press the key question is, What needs to be done to make sure that it doesn’t happen again?

Journalists are obviously resistant to statutory regulation, which they believe will undermine the watchdog role that the press is supposed to play with respect to the government and the police. The belief by journalists is that this isn’t an issue of regulation but rather of enforcing existing laws. In an interview with the Guardian, outgoing Associated Press president and chief executive Tom Curley sums up that point of view nicely:

The laws on hacking and payments are rather clear. We don’t need more laws there but somebody didn’t enforce what was already there. Why did they not enforce them? What was really going on and how does that get resolved?

That’s really key. Not only is there clear evidence of wrong-doing, there has been clear evidence of wrong-doing for years, almost a a decade. What perverted the course of justice to such an extent that the News International’s ‘rogue reporter’ defence stood up for so long?

As an American, I come at this from a distinctly American point of view, not just in terms of journalism but also in terms of a fundamentally American civic point of view. The entire basis of US constitutional governance is a system of checks and balances. The Founding Fathers believed that government power needed to be held in check, which is why they invested counter-balancing power in the courts, Congress and the office of the president. Despite an increase in the concentration of executive power beginning in the 1930s, you only have to see how Barack Obama is checked by a hostile Congress to see how checks and balances operate.

The press is often referred to as the Fourth Estate, another centre of power, another check against authority. However, it’s pretty clear that in the UK, power actually became so concentrated in the tabloid press that it effectively has gone unchecked. The police didn’t hold the tabloids to account, and politicians actually courted Rupert Murdoch’s king-making Sun.

Now as the investigations into illegal payments to public officials and police yield arrests for questioning, Sun Associate Editor Trevor Kavanagh thundered in defence of his paper and the British press today under the headline Witch-hunt has put us behind ex-Soviet states on Press freedom.

An effort by the police to finally do a proper investigation and hold people to account is a Soviet-style witch-hunt?

Read his article. It’s typically good Sun bombast, but it’s also typical of tabloid diversion: Change the subject, frame the argument so that something very unseemly seems righteous and pure. He says his journalists are blameless:

Their alleged crimes? To act as journalists have acted on all newspapers through the ages, unearthing stories that shape our lives, often obstructed by those who prefer to operate behind closed doors. These stories sometimes involve whistleblowers. Sometimes money changes hands. This has been standard procedure as long as newspapers have existed, here and abroad.

Chequebook journalism is a pretty common feature in securing tattle for the tabloid press. However, if you start to whip out the chequebook to pay a police officer or a public official, that’s something entirely different. It starts to establish a potentially corrupting relationship between officials and the press. Yes, it is done in extraordinary circumstances, such as obtaining the records for the explosive MPs expenses story. However, a nonchalance about money changing hands between journalists and public officials shines a spotlight on the problem; it doesn’t provide a defence for the practice or for those involved in it.

Occasionally journalists will engage in surreptitious recording if it is in the public interest. Occasionally, and in extraordinary circumstances when there is no other way to get a story, we will conceal our identity as journalists. However, we only bend or break our own professional rules if there is an overriding public interest in doing so. There is no public interest defence for breaking the Computer Misuse Act. There is no public interest defence for intercepting voicemail messages.

With sufficient justification and internal editorial oversight, normal guidelines can be set aside when there is an overwhelming public need to do so, but journalists cannot break the law without understanding that we will be held to account.

The journalists now being investigated are not being treated any differently than anyone else would be in an investigation, and if journalists are suspected of breaking the law, there is nothing special about our profession that allows police to treat us any differently than anyone else. Members of the Fourth Estate are not exempt from the laws of the other three. A press card, even the new one proposed by the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, is not a licence to break the law. The sooner that tabloid journalists accept that, the sooner we can move on from this dark chapter in the history of journalism.

CNN and Zite: What other tech companies have been bought by Big Media?

With the news that CNN has bought iPad news app Zite, I started thinking about what tech companies have been bought by media organisations. I could think of a couple off the top of my head including Newsvine and Everyblock by MSNBC, Reddit by Condé Nast and Blogrunner by the New York Times. If you think of any others, feel free to pop them in the form below. I’ll publish the list as soon as we get it into some shape.