Friday, December 26, 2008
It's a great news strategy because it:
- Produces better coverage. Alpert & the Voice of San Diego get tipped to all sorts of interesting goings-on worth reporting on that they might not have heard of otherwise.
- Builds loyalty -- and thus increases readership. Anytime you allow someone to participate in what you're doing, you build a sense of ownership in them, and that ownership builds commitment to stick with you.
- Increases ad impressions. It's a system that requires repeat visits (once to post the question and once, at least, to get the answer). That ups the number of eyeballs hitting the site.
To make it work, however, Alpert is going to need to do the following:
- Track down as many answers as possible. Asking people to participate then not delivering on your promise is a sure way to turn off readers.
- Deliver high-quality answers. Not just perfunctory statements from spokespeople. But genuine explanations to the issues readers want answered. Nothing will turn readers off faster than getting the same boiled over statements they could have gotten themselves.
Sure, Alpert will probably get more questions than she can possibly answer. And getting high-quality answers also takes time. So how should Alpert negotiate these challenges in ways that build loyalty?
- Communicate with her readers about what she can and cannot do. Behind every reader is a reasonable human being. Human beings much prefer getting feedback, even if it's not the news they wanted, than silence. Ever been on a plane that's sitting at the gate long after its scheduled departure time? Does your blood pressure go up with every minute that passes with no news from the crew about the reason for the delay? And does it go down the minute someone explains what's going on, even if it brings bad news, like it's going to take another 45 minutes to fix whatever the problem is? Same thing with this. As long as Alpert communicates back what she can and cannot do, readers will be happy. But not giving any of the backstory will provoke discontent.
- Enlist readers to help her answer. Encourage other readers in the know to post whatever they know. At a minimum, it'll turbo-charge Alpert's own reporting, helping her focus her efforts on the places where the answers lie. At most, it might even result in the answer itself, saving Alpert from having to do any groundwork herself.
Alpert's strategy is a great example of how moving news on to the Internet is not about just throwing the same old content that appears in print form out into the ethernet -- but it's about using the specific capabilities of the new media to produce better coverage and increase readership.
Monday, December 22, 2008
-- A comment from a visitor to The Journalism Iconoclast (not a bad place to hang out, if you're interested in the future of news)
Photo courtesy of d'n'c'. Creative Commons license.
The problem with the list? All the stories are about, well, newspapers.
- Josh Marshall/Talking Points Memo's Polk Award win for tracking down the US attorneys general firings (long before the traditional media even had a clue anything was amiss, btw).
- The rise of online organizations that are taking over the local news biz. Organizations like the Voice of San Diego, the St. Louis Beacon, and MinnPost.com.
- The creation of new experiments, like spot.us, to try to discover new models for reporting and funding the news.
E&P's list reflects the fact that they continue to equate the news business with the newspaper business. It's as if horse-and-buggy people at the turn of the (last) century equated horse and buggies with transportation and refused to recognize that motor vehicle also equated transportation.
As long as the leaders in the newspaper business continue to see the newspaper as the core unit in this business -- rather than the practice of gathering and disseminating information, no matter what shape it takes -- they will remain fundamentally incapable, and thus unqualified, to help this industry find its future.
Photo courtesy of Bombardier. Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
To which I reply, could we please stop using the word “blogger”?
Mostly because the term is loaded, and more importantly because it is inaccurate—if we define inaccurate as “incorrectly describing the thing being described.”
The term “blogger” is loaded because it still evokes images of dubiously informed pajama pundits pounding away at their keyboards in the middle of the night, offering little real value to the world of journalism, other, perhaps, than alternative ways of looking at news reported by others.
But as more and more serious journalism is being distributed using blog platforms, continuing to use the term does a disservice to us all. It’s not just that its somewhat dismissive connotations are quasi-disrespectful to the folks who are not “dubiously informed pajama pundits.” It’s also that using the term perpetuates the notion that most people who communicate via blogging platforms are indeed such folks when, in fact, they are not necessarily so. Perpetuating those incorrect impressions gets in the way of understanding the actual—and valuable work—that many journalists are doing online. A journalist distributing journalism online should be called a “journalist.” Only then can we all understand—and appreciate—that what they’re doing is, in fact, journalism.
If that’s not enough to convince you, how about the simple point of accuracy? The word “blog” describes a delivery mechanism, just as the terms “newspaper”, “TV”, and “radio” all describe delivery mechanisms. The term “blog” does not describe the activity performed by a person using that mechanism. Just as someone who appears on TV may do so in any number of contexts—actor, talk show host, reporter—a person who uses a blog to communicate to the world may be performing any number of activities—opinionating, traveloguing, reporting. So to use the word “blogger” to refer to someone who uses blogging technology is as inaccurate—and potentially ridiculous, if you actually think about it—as it would be to refer to someone who communicates via TV as a “TVer”.
So here’s my plea. Starting in 2009, could we retire the word “blogger” and, instead, simply label people using blogs according to the specific work they are doing? Call a journalist a journalist, a pundit a pundit, and people who do both (like Marshall) "a journalist and pundit."
Photo courtesy of procsilas. Creative Commons license.
Friday, December 12, 2008
"If the automakers' difficulties can be traced to a single, essential failure, it is their belief that they could avoid change."
-- Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 8, 2008
There's been a lot of ire in the journalism world about Jeff Jarvis blaming journalists for their current fate. But I have to agree with him. Newspapers' difficulties today can be chalked up to the same essential failure as the carmakers': The belief they could avoid change.The difference, mainstream journalists will argue, is that journalism was producing a quality product. Unlike Detroit, which kept producing gas guzzlers when the tide was turning toward more fuel efficient vehicles, the mainstream media kept producing important, democracy-foundational journalism.
I will argue that the difference is not so great.
Both have continued to produce products that customers increasingly don't want. In journalism's case, the mainstream media may continue to be producing "important news," but it's not in the form readers want. The same way Detroit continues to produce "transportation," but not in the form drivers want. So this is the point: It doesn't matter how "valuable" your product is. If your customers don't want it, your future is limited. To survive, you have to evolve.
This is how the traditional media failed. They believed they didn't have to change, because their product was so valuable. They were wrong. The world does need what they produce. But we need it in the form in which we'll consume it.
Photo courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal. Creative Commons license.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
For example, on Nov. 5, the day after the historic presidential election, the NY Times posted only a handful of photographs from the previous day—when they very well could have posted a slew.
I remember noticing that as well. I’d been in Oakland on election night. The next day I went looking for photographs of celebrations around the country. I wanted to see if they had been as wild as Oakland’s. (In fact, as I soon learned, many were much more wild.) I remember subconsciously being surprised at how few pictures the NY Times had up on its site. If ever there were a day to just throw out pictures galore, this was it.
This is the scarcity mindset. When you only have a certain number of physical newspaper pages, there are only a certain amount of photographs you can publish. So you get in the habit of choosing only the best and running with those.
But on the Web, bandwidth is limitless. So not only can you post a gazillion photos, should you choose to do so, but—and this is important—your readers actually expect you to—just as I expected the NY Times to.
Moving into the abundance mindset, and posting as much content as possible,* will help ensure the future of news organizations for two reasons.
-- It generates revenue. Think about how many more ad impressions the NY Times would have gotten from me—and people like me, hungry for images from that transformational day—had they posted a slew of photographs.
-- It allows you to meet your readers' expectations. Not making more content available, on the other hand, violates expectations, and that’s a very bad thing to do. It irritates people, decreases their loyalty, and reduces the chance they’ll keep coming back.
* A quick note on what I mean by “more” content. I don’t mean more stories necessarily. That’s unsustainable in these days of slashed staffs. “More” content doesn’t have to be about creating a lot of new work. Rather, it’s about using as much as possible of what you already have—photographs, interview transcripts, even interview audio turned into podcasts, plus all those little observations, behind-the-scenes happenings, and little nuggets that would never make it into a formal “story”, much less merit a story of their own, but that nevertheless could conceivably be of interest to someone, and therefore is worth throwing up on the Web as a standalone item.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
One of the links listed under the Obama story in the image above takes you to a blog called Slog. That's cool. But who's "Slog"? If you told me the link to that site had been hand-curated, I'd have confidence it was worth my time. So would I if you told me it came from a bot built to find the best items out there. But right now, I'm wondering whether that list is randomly generated. If so, that's bad news. Not only would the list not necessarily be helpful, it could actually send me to a bunch of time-wasting stories. In that case, the value of the list would plummets and the Times would lose my trust as a reliable source of good information. Lose my trust, and you lose my loyalty.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Here’s what I love about it, as reflected in a tweet on Dec 3:
@sashak and @myoung Thanks for the welcome. I'm trying to avoid going extinct. Help teach me how to do this....--ndk
Kristof has no idea what he’s doing… and yet he’s trying it anyway. That’s the kind of mindset we need in the news business: Just try it and figure it out as you go.
Here’s the second thing I like about it: “Help teach me how to do this.”
Gone is the traditional journalistic “we know best” arrogance. (Not that I’m accusing Kristof of being arrogant. I've never met the guy, but he actually seems like one of the most down-to-earth journos out there.) In place of that distance-creating arrogance are:
a) The admission that he’s ignorant (or, put another way, a beginner),
b) A recognition that the folks out there can probably help us journos find our way to the future, and
c) A willingness to help them help us.
All of these are incredibly valuable mindsets for finding our way forward. Kristof's courageous dive into something he doesn't quite understand--but realizes might hold a key to the future--is a model to emulate.
Hmmm…. Talk about thinking "inside the box."
Bushie didn’t talk at all about possibly rethinking the paper—either the Chron itself or the idea of a newspaper in general. He apparently assumes that the Chron—or newspapers in general—should continue to provide the exact same product that they offer today (ie: the combined international/national/local/sports/business/home/life/entertainment package that they offer today). There was no: “Let’s go back to the drawing board and see where our competitive advantages lie and figure out what value we can deliver to our customers and then come up with a bunch of potential alternative incarnations that we’d be able to knock out of the ballpark and support financially.”
Instead, Bushie spoke about potentially jacking up the price of the paper, which is 75 cents today. And what was his rationale for thinking this was a reasonable idea? Most cups of coffee are about $2, he said. And the New York Times already costs $1.50. (At least it does if you’re in California. Maybe not on the streets of NYC.)
Such faulty thinking is flabbergasting. A thing isn’t worth more, just because other things are worth more. A thing is worth what your customer thinks it’s worth--what they’re willing to pay for it. Given the plummeting readership in newspapers in general, I sincerely doubt that the average San Franciscan would be willing to pay more for something they are increasingly less interested in.
The other revelation that further called into doubt Bushie's ability to lead the Chron into the future was that he repeatedly spoke about how much the paper been talking to “their readers” to find out what “their readers” want. But these, in fact, are the wrong people to be talking to. In order to survive, newspapers need to enlarge their customer base. Newspapers like the Chron should be talking to people who don’t already read (and buy) the newspaper. They should be trying to figure out how to convert those people from non-customers into customers. Normally, I fully support talking to and designing for your customers. But not when your existing customers don’t form a sufficient base.
In short, Bushie’s mindset seems to be this:
“The Chron is a great paper. We should figure out how to continue to support it, in its current incarnation, though maybe with a few tweaks.”
But to survive—or rather, to grow into a thriving news entity—a newspaper’s mindset today needs to be:
“What sorts of news are the citizens of our community interested in? What portions of those can we be really good at delivering? And how can we deliver them in a way that the members of our community will consume them?”
The full interview (available for download) is here.
Image courtesy of AlbySpace. Creative Commons license.