Helping your newsroom fall in love with spreadsheets

Closeup of Excel Spreadsheet template to track printouts, by Texas State Library and Archives Commission, from Wikimedia

Topping my media newsletter today is a piece about how the digital transformation team at the New York Times helped their teams embrace (maybe love is too strong a word) spreadsheets.

It’s timely because it came on a day that I was helping my colleagues in public broadcasting learn how to do data journalism. Top tip from my webinar yesterday: Use Google to find spreadsheets with the data you want by adding filetype:xls (or xlsx) to your search.

Former New York Times digital editor Aron Pilhofer once told me that he could teach any journalist 80 percent of everything they would need to know about data journalism in a day. I’d agree with that, and if you can unlock the magic of pivot tables, you’ll feel like Harry Potter. It’s just magic.

But if you’re a journalist and the actual ease of use doesn’t win you over, Lindsey Rogers Cook with the Times makes this argument:

While journalists once were fond of joking that they got into the field because of an aversion to math, numbers now comprise the foundation for beats as wide ranging as education, the stock market, the Census and criminal justice. More data is released than ever before — there are nearly 250,000 datasets on alone — and increasingly, government, politicians and companies try to twist those numbers to back their own agendas.

How We Helped Our Reporters Learn to Love Spreadsheets, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Times Open

As with the training that I do with data journalism, they use Google Sheets. It’s approachable and the interface is simple while having most of the features that Excel does. Moreover, I’ve found that when working with journalists from multiple organisations that if I use Google Sheets, I can be assured that we’re all working on the same version of the software, unlike Excel. I also find Google Sheets much less daunting than the open-source versions of spreadsheet software.

At the Times, the class meets for two hours each more for three weeks. They work on projects that are directly to their work, and they also train the reporters’ editors.

I have found the most successful data journalism courses that I’ve done actually bring together people from reporting, design and even coding or development.

I’ll let you read the rest of the post, but one key thing I’ll highlight, the Times has actually released their data journalism course materials to the world on Google Docs. Wow. That’s impressive and useful.

If you have a story you think I should include in my daily media newsletter, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.

Podcasting: Lessons from an award-winning pod about pot

Cannabis Station, Denver, Colorado, a medical marijuana store. The sign says, "Fill Up on Diesel $30 ⅛'s."
Cannabis Station, Denver, Colorado, by Jeffrey Beall, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Readers of the newsletter will know that podcast audiences and advertising are growing, well at least in the US, where podcasts can break up the long drives Americans take (and I say that as one). In today’s media business newsletter, the top story is a pithy Q&A about some lessons from a podcast on the pot industry in Massachusetts.

Pot content is not necessarily new, especially as more liberal marijuana laws have swept across the US. The Denver Post had a marijuana critic for a while and a vertical focused on the subject called The Cannabist. (Sadly, the critic and a video show were victims of the well-covered cuts at the newspapers. Indie newspaper Westword said that journalist Jake Browne was to be “replaced by bots.”)

The podcast, Mass Marijuana, “a show about the growing pains in the newly legal cannabis industry in the state of Massachusetts.” Mass is a clever pun both in terms of legal marijuana use coming to the masses and also Mass being an abbreviation and nickname for Massachusetts.

Unlike a lot of professionally produced podcasts that have grown out of public radio in the US, this one is produced by a local TV station in the Boston area. Lead producer Dalton Main said:

As cannabis became legal, we were covering stories constantly. My job was to take the interviews and stories created every day and weave them into a larger overarching narrative. I got to read between the lines and connect the dots of the daily news pieces. It was very fun.

Mass Marijuana: What Broadcasters Can Learn About Podcasting from An Award-Winning Show About Cannabis, by Seth Resler, Jacobs Media

The two lessons that stood out for me were, one obvious one, that they tapped into an identifiable, and I would argue a well-known niche. A niche focus is important, if not critical, in several digital media formats whether that is a podcast, newsletter or blog. Number two, they tapped into a wealth of coverage that they are were already doing. And three, they also mined their own archives.

Keep those suggestions coming to me on Twitter, @kevglobal. As the newsletter grows subscribers, sharing international media stories with me and others will make it even better.

How The (London) Times cut churn with its AI-powered newsletters

A cartoon drawing of a robot on a plaster wall.
Robo(t), by Daniel Lobo, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

At work, my hip-hop name is K-Fun, as in Kevin and conversion funnel. I’m semi-obsessed with how we can convert casual users into, in the case of the public media stations I work for, members.

So it should come as no surprise that the top story in today’s newsletter is about how The Times (of London is using AI and newsletters to reduce subscriber churn.

In my work, I’m focused on the top of the funnel – growing our audience – and the first stages of the conversion process. But for groups like The Times, which has been building its paid content strategy for years now, the focus is much farther down the funnel, on retention. Converting casual users to members or subscribers becomes a Sisyphean task if you have a high churn rate, a high rate at which you lose subscribers.

The Times is using AI to send personalised newsletters based on readers interests. Basically, they are using technology to send the right content at the right to time to subscribers on a level that would not be scalable if it relied simply on human editors. The halving of the churn rate was determined by comparing the churn of a group that received the newsletter generated by the AI and a control group.

Nicely for The Times, a £1m grant from Google’s News Initiative helped pay for the trial, which is a good reason for news organisations in North America to apply for the new challenge that Google is running there. I mentioned the challenge in yesterday’s newsletter.

Thanks for reading, and if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so easily on my Nuzzel profile page, and please, if you spot an international media business story I should include, flag it up to me on Twitter, @kevglobal.

How to get onto Instagram’s Explore tab

Exploring, by Tom Bullock, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello new newsletter subscribers! My how your numbers have grown.

Topping today’s international media newsletter is a great summary from TechCrunch on the signals that Instagram uses to put content on the new Explore tab.

At the public media group where I work, we’re seeing some early indications that Insta is helping us reach parts of our community that we want to serve but we currently aren’t connecting with. For instance, we recently ran a series about African-American women who had suffered trauma in their lives and how they received support. Our posts on Instagram took off, while they didn’t get much traction on Facebook, which is the opposite of what we normally see.

TechCrunch says that Explore will match content with topics and accounts similar to what an Insta user already follows. Videos and highly visual stories without much text will also have a higher chance of getting on the Explore tab. It’s a great post to bookmark.

Other topics include:

And that’s a wrap for this week. I’ll see you on Monday. If you don’t already subscribe to the newsletter, you can on my Nuzzel profile page. And please, please send me stories, @kevglobal on Twitter, especially outside of the US. Kevglobal really is global.

How to grow paying subscribers by 2000%? Easy. Evolution.

Pieces of paper with the words money, growth and business printed on them with 2019 spelled out in US coins.

2019 – Das Jahr des Wachstums, Geldes und Geschäftes, by Marco Verch, Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

The top story in my media business newsletter today definitely challenges conventional wisdom. Trevor Kaufman, the CEO of paid content platform Piano, says that most people believe that when you launch a paid content strategy that you grow at first but then plateau as you convert the core of your addressable market. I have to admit that from most of the examples that I have seen and even some media properties that I have managed that this is the case.

“After all, once you convert the converted, who is left?” he asks rhetorically. He goes on to challenge that view and says that Piano is finding that those publishers that invest in working their conversion funnel get better at converting.

We took a random sampling of our customers that have been in business between four and nine quarters, comparing their first two quarters with their last two. We found those with just a year behind them experienced increases of up to 50% in their average number of new monthly subscribers. And for those with nine quarters behind them, growth rates reached more than 2000% on average.

Attention, investment in digital subscriptions results in 2000% growth, Trevor Kaufman, INMA

Conversely, those clients who didn’t work it, didn’t invest, didn’t learn not only plateaued but declined. And I think Kaufman points out another key difference: The companies that invested and excelled changed their business, just like the New York Times has, to subscription-focused businesses.

There is a lot about paid content in today’s newsletter including an updated overview of pay models for online news by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Let me know if there are any stories that you’d like to see in the newsletter. I’m @kevglobal on Twitter.

How the Washington Post tracked Trump’s 10,000 falsehoods

Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office to become the nation’s 45th president and commander in chief at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. White House photo

In today’s newsletter, we take a look at the fact-checking operation at the Washington Post that manages a database of 10,000 falsehoods spoken, tweeted and otherwise communicated by the 45th president of the United States. The official tally is 10,111 “false or misleading claims” in 828 days in office as of 27 April. How are they managing this?

Each member of (Glenn Kessler’s) three-person team picks a day of the week to sift through Trump’s tweets, speeches and media appearances for potential claims to add to the database. Each person generally picks up two days, and in practice, someone usually ends up losing their weekend.

“It’s now become a bit of a burden because it consumes so much time,” Kessler said. “I’m trying to figure out how we can handle more of this during the week. I don’t know what we’ll do when it comes to campaign season and he’s holding three rallies a day.”

How The Washington Post tallied more than 10,000 Trump falsehoods in less than three years , by Daniel Funke, Poynter

They have added up the time spent, and Kessler said that they have worked an extra 118 8-hour workdays. The project was initially only supposed to last the first 100 days of his presidency, but readers actually called and emailed asking for the project to continue. That’s brilliant.

In addition to that, we also have:

If you’ve got a story that you’d like me to include, say hello over on Twiter, @kevglobal.

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

Zuckerberg’s Magical Garden of Horrors Has Another Bad Day

The statue of a dinosaur eating a smaller dinosaur.A metaphor for yet another bad day at Facebook.

A dino has dinner. A metaphor for yet another bad day at Facebook. Photo by Mike Bird from Pexels

Pick your adjective or metaphor when it comes to Facebook’s current run of horrible, awful, no good press. And this isn’t just an optics or PR thing. Facebook is embattled because it has:

  1. Screwed up, repeatedly.
  2. Can’t or won’t, or a mix of both, seem to fix its problems.
  3. And is in a footrace with Trump’s West Wing in terms of a petty, backstabbing leakfest.

In the newsletter today, we highlight a couple of stories yesterday that make for yet another shitty day in Zucklandia. Wired dropped a story with 65 sources talking about “15 months of fresh hell” at the anti-social behaviour network. And NBC reported a leak of thousands of documents that show that Facebook used data to reward its friends and punish or at least kneecap potential competitors. The second story is the kind of stuff that would instantly see Facebook in anti-trust court if the US actually enforced anti-trust laws anymore. Oh Europe, where are you when the world needs you?

But that’s not all today, we also have:

Scandi publishing giant Schibsted joins complaint against Apple’s app dominance. Vox Media acquires publisher with history of turning journalism into movie deals. Publishers turn to ‘expert networks’. UX lessons still be learned from print.

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 US Public Media Buying News Startups Stem the Crisis in Local Journalism?

A mic with the NPR (National Public Radio) flag at their headquarters in Washington DC.

A mic with the NPR (National Public Radio) flag at their headquarters in Washington DC. by Ted Eytan, Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

I wrote about public media groups in the US buying digital local news sites last month for What’s New in Publishing last month after Colorado Public Radio bought Spirited Media’s Denverite. This isn’t really a new trend with St. Louis Public Radio buying the St. Louis Beacon more than five years ago, but we have more examples recently. And now with Philadelphia’s WHYY buying Spirited Media’s original site, Billy Penn, we have another example of this interesting effort by public media groups to scale their digital audiences and ambitions through acquisition.

In my international media newsletter today, we have a couple of pieces looking at the acquisition as well as this in a jam-packed edition:

What will journalists do with the 5G wireless? LSE research role to study AI and news. NYT CEO: Publishers can’t build business model on cuts. Drone journalism tips and more (including Vice’s latest sign of weakness and lack of focus).

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


Why freelancers should start a podcast Plus networking or introverts

Shy Greek Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago

Shy Greek Sculpture, by Alan Levine, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Good Monday morning! In my international media newsletter today, we hear from my friend Suchandrika Chakrabarti on 7 reasons a freelance journalist should start a podcast. I met her when I was doing consulting and training for her former employer, then Trinity-Mirror, now Reach in the UK. It’s a great post, and I think if you have love audio and have a niche that you’re passionate about, podcasts can be a great addition to a freelancer’s repertoire.

Apart from other industry news today, we also have another bit of sage, actionable advice: If you’re an introvert attending a media festival for the first time, this is for you. Janie Octia of Splice, which aims to become the Nieman Lab/Digiday of Southeast Asia, gives advice for how to get the most out of media conferences if you’re not an extroverted über-networker. I raise my hand to that. I’ve had to learn networking. It didn’t come naturally to me. I still struggle to break the ice, but once I do, I found that I best understand networking (or blogging) as sharing mutual professional passions.

If you don’t get my international media newsletter, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here