29 May 2009

Future Tense

Top executives of leading U.S. newspaper and media companies -- including Gannett, McClatchy, the Associated Press and The New York Times, among others -- met, quietly, in an out-of-the-way location near the Chicago airport this week to discuss their future, according to leaked information published by The Atlantic.

Correspondent James Warren reports that charging for online content was a key topic.

"Cross one's fingers on their behalf, even if there's worry that some don't really possess the nerve and vision to exit a mess for which they hold significant responsibility," he writes. "During their days of print advertising plenty, the people in this room, or their predecessors, made the catastrophic, myopic decision to not charge. They gave away their expensive efforts for free. They by and large misjudged the significance of the internet."

But now, he said, it is "safe to wager that most attendees ... will be dragged into charging for some online content because they don't know what else to do." The question remains, however, whether the decline in quality of many newspapers will "give even long-loyal consumers legitimate pause about paying up."

The meeting was called by the Newspaper Association of America, a major industry trade group, which described the gathering as a discussion of "how best to support and preserve the traditions of newsgathering that will serve the American public."

Commenting about the barely publicized meeting on his Reuters MediaFile blog, Robert MacMillan points out that while industrywide cooperation is alluring, newspapers risk running afoul of federal anti-trust laws. Anti-trust counsel reportedly was present at the Chicago meeting.

Some publishers want Congress to approve an anti-trust rule change that would let them get together to solve the problems that "thwart them from delivering journalism" in the current media environment, MacMillan says.


28 May 2009

Less Shopping, More Socializing

UK internet users are spending less of their online time shopping and more time using social media, according to the new Online Media Roundup from Hitwise.

Nearly 10% of all UK internet visits in March 2009 were to social networking websites, with Facebook leading the way. Entertainment websites attract another 11.6% of visits, and news and media sites draw 5.6%. All those figures are up from a year ago.

The largest single category of growth over the past year has been online video, up more than 33% from March 2008. However, it still accounts for fewer than 3% of all visits.

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27 May 2009

Golden Rules of Social Media

Online veteran Aliza Sherman has come up with `10 Golden Rules of Social Media.' They are aimed primarily at online marketers, but they work for providers of other kinds of information, as well. And they are:

1. Respect the Spirit of the ‘Net. The Internet was meant for communication and connection to people and information. You'll have more success focusing on those attributes than throwing money at hard-sell tactics.

2. Listen. Listening thoughtfully gives you a better sense of what people are feeling as well as saying.

3. Add Value. Enter any online conversation with the aim of adding value. In some circles, talking about your product or service can be considered valuable, but in most, it is unwelcome and intrusive.

4. Respond. A quick response is crucial; thanks to search tools, alert apps and other services, it also is possible. Don’t be a dam in a conversation flow.

5. Do Good Things. Your business model should include `people, planet, profit.'

6. Share the Wealth. Sharing time, information and knowledge fuels the conversation engine.

7. Give Kudos. Social media works when you are generous with praise or with time in the spotlight. The rise of retweeting shows the value of giving credit to others can go in social spaces.

8. Don’t Spam. Avoid the ugly trend toward spamming in social media. No one has the time or interest to tolerate it.

9. Be Real. Authenticity is the secret ingredient behind valuable use of social media. `If you know your audience, locate them online, listen, add value, respond, refrain from spamming and just be yourself, you’ll have far better and more long-lasting positive results than if you try to be someone — or something — you’re not.'

10. Collaborate. Look at what else is out there and whether other social media players might be potential partners.

`Social media tools are only that — tools,' Sherman says. `The real energy, spirit and power of social media is people. We are social media.'


26 May 2009

Online Classifieds Soar in Popularity

On any given day, nearly one in 10 U.S. internet users visits an online classified site, up from just 4% in 2005.

Overall, the number of online adults who have used online classified ads has more than doubled in the past four years, according to a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Almost half (49%) of internet users say they have ever used online classified sites, compared with 22% of online adults who had done so in 2005.

The study underscores the growing social role of online classified ads, which are especially popular with young adults. Nearly two-thirds of internet users between the ages of 25 and 34 use online classifieds, along with 57% of users beween 35 and 44.

In the United States, Craigslist is the overwhelming classified traffic leader; Gumtree is popular in the UK.

The full report, which is available for free download, highlights the growing importance of such sites to both potential buyers and sellers, which has had a devastating effect on revenue for traditional print newspapers.

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18 May 2009

Mixed Review for Wolfram Alpha

The new Wolfram Alpha search engine has the potential to be an excellent tool for journalists -- but it's years away from becoming a game-changer, Paul Bradshaw writes.

Bradshaw highlights the "computational knowledge engine's" ability to search parts of the "hidden web" that most search engines don’t reach, such as databases, as well as its potential to provide quick answers to questions about relationships and facts better than Google.

However, at the moment, natural language questions work best if you're looking for very specific information about something well-known. For instance, Wolfram can tell you what year Charles Dickens was born, but it can’t turn that around to tell you what writers were born in that year, he said.

Particularly useful, Bradshaw adds, is the ability to compare things - "for example, The Guardian vs The Telegraph, or London, Birmingham and Manchester." It also is good at calculations of various sorts, from converting fuel use to fuel costs to figuring out the calories in your lunch.

Overall, he says, the tool can be a time saver, but there are drawbacks. For instance, while Google lets you intuitively evaluate the credibility of a source, it's unclear where the information provided by Wolfram is coming from or how accurate it is.

Bradshaw concludes that "Wolfram is an engine waiting for the world to catch up. The technology is enormously impressive - really, game-changingly important. But the material it has to work with is, currently, sparse."


17 May 2009

Pay Up, People

A U.S. publisher of local and regional newspapers has announced that it will begin charging for online content from all its papers, according to a MediaDailyNews article.

Management at the MediaNews Group, which publishes the Denver Post and Detroit News along with more than 50 other daily papers, said the company will:

* Stop reproducing all its print content online, meaning some stories will only appear in the newspapers.

* Craft online content to reach a younger audience.

* Require online users who are not subscribed to the print edition to register and pay a fee to read stories online.

A memo to staffers, released two weeks after an executive conference on interactive media, described the new strategy for monetizing content: "We are not trying to invent new premium products, but instead, tell our existing print readers that what they are buying has real value, and to our online audience (who don't buy the print edition), that if you want access to all online content, you are going to have to register, and/or pay... The brand value proposition to the consumer is that the newspaper is a product, whether in print or online, which must be paid for."

The question of whether readers will balk at paying for something they're accustomed to getting for free was not addressed. Aside from specialist publications such as The Wall Street Journal, few newspapers have been successful charging for content.


15 May 2009

Savvy Socialising

Journalists' rapidly increasing use of Twitter and Facebook is making editors at some newspapers a little nervous, Editor & Publisher reports.

The Wall Street Journal this week expanded its conduct guidelines to include a number of online-related restrictions, including warnings not to "friend" confidential sources or get into Web-based arguments with critics. Other newspapers also have issued new ground rules. For instance, the Los Angeles Times has a lengthy list of "social media" guidelines emphasizing that staffers are linked to the paper when they engage in online activities. "Assume that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public and knowable to everyone with access to a computer," states one guideline.

The L.A. Times actually is among the most active U.S. newspapers on Twitter, with nearly 150 accounts, half of them by individual reporters and other news staffers. "We understand people need to be more casual to fit in to that culture," says Andrew Nystrom, the Times' senior producer for social media. "We encourage them to say what is on their minds, and that gets a better response."

Other editors also say they want staffers to have a casual, open approach. And still others admit they aren't sure how to police social media outlets without curtailing their usefulness.

"I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper," said Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, who started tweeting (sparingly) himself just last week. "Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing The New York Times."

Keller's paper has not established specific rules for Twitter and Facebook, but staff workshops have been held to teach reporters the best use of Twitter. Perhaps the reporter who posted information from an internal staff meeting to her own Twitter account earlier this week -- Tweets that turned into stories for, among others, the Guardian -- missed that meeting.

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14 May 2009

Hyperlocal Training and Revenue Sharing

CN Group is providing training and sharing revenues with community journalists as part of its hyperlocal site development.

Nick Turner, head of the group's digital content development, said at the Digital Editors Network meeting in Preston this week that the 19 hyperlocal sites around Cumbria provide a bridge between the newspapers and the community. Both groups and individuals contribute content directly to the sites, and correspondents get 25% of the ad revenue generated. Advertising on the hyperlocal sites is priced low to attract community businesses.

Training, some of it offered in conjunction with the University of Cumbria, is provided in local libraries.

Turner said local correspondents tend to have a different agenda from journalists; they feel connected with their communities and are interested in trying to resolve issues rather than exacerbate problems. He emphasized that the correspondents provide additional information but that it is not generally the same sort of information that journalists provide and is not a replacement for journalism.

A report on journalism.co.uk provides additional details.

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13 May 2009

Social Media Matter

Use of social media in the UK has skyrocketed over the past year, and using it wisely can mean big boosts to website traffic, according to presenters at the Digital Editors Network meeting in Preston this week.

One in 10 UK internet users now visits a social networking site -- they have overtaken both porn and shopping! -- and the sites account for about one in every five page views, Robin Goad of Hitwise said. Facebook is by far the most popular, with a 41.2% market share.

Patrick Altoft, the director of search for Leeds-based Branded3, stressed the use of applications such as Digg to boost the number and quality of links to a website. Those links can significantly enhance search engine rankings and overall traffic; for instance, he said, the Guardian has nearly 16 million links pointing to its content.

Altoft, whose DEN presentation is available online, highlighted the emphasis on Digg at successful national news websites such as the Telegraph's; he said telegraph.co.uk gets around 2.2 million users a month -- more than 70,000 a day -- from social media links and another 8.3 million from searches.

Twitter also can be extremely influential. Altoft said CNN.com has 1.4 million followers; other major media, inluding the BBC and the Guardian, have hundreds of thousands.

Being first to post a story makes a difference -- Google News, for instance, includes a "freshness" algorithm that gives priority to the latest version of a breaking story -- but so does promoting it. The first 30 minutes are critical, Altoft said; he urged media organizations to create an automated promotion network that draws on social networking tools to boost visibility and interest.

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12 May 2009

Northcliffe Set to Trial Hyperlocal Sites

Thirty new local Northcliffe sites combining citizen journalism, blogging and Facebook-style social networking will go live next month, according to an item posted to journalism.co.uk.

The initial six-month trial of hyperlocal websites will target towns with populations of 10,000 to 40,000 people that currently have no dedicated local newspaper or website, said Seamus McCauley, strategic analyst at Associated Northcliffe Digital.

"There is a real fear in the journalism industry about the future of local newsgathering. This at the moment is our hope for the answer," McCauley told an audience at City University. "In every town, there will already be a person who writes match reports for football games, businesses who like to talk about their work, churches who host events every week. We want to co-ordinate that activity."

He said the sites will be overseen by "community publishers", whose role will be to keep discussion live and active, oversee content, and provide fresh information. "To make this work, it's crucial to have people on the ground who can find, generate and curate the content," McCauley said.

The sites will be powered by social networking software and by Northcliffe's own news generation facilities. A central moderation team will monitor output across the network and advise the community publishers.

The 30 sites scheduled to launch in June will be concentrated in the southwest of England, from Gloucestershire to Cornwall, including 10 towns around Bristol.

McCauley said the new hyperlocal sites would not compete with its existing network of regional websites under the "thisis" brand. Northcliffe also publishes a series of postcode sites, automatically fed by content from a local title.

"In every town, sooner or later a big issue comes up, and local people will try and knock up a website very quickly. We want to set up these sites so that when an issue arises, they're already there," he said. "But they will also be a place to discuss minor issues and news. Newswires don't localise to that level, and there are no aggregators that provide anything sensible for smaller towns.

"The question is, can we get a certain proportion of a town's population onto each site? This launch will show us."

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11 May 2009

Fee or Free

Using as a springboard Rupert Murdoch's signal last week that his newspapers, including the Sun and the Times, could start charging for online access over the next year, Guardian Media writer Chris Tryhorn today considers whether the days of free content are (or should be) numbered.

Among the points he raises:

* At least among the major national UK newspaper websites, there are signs that online readership may have hit a plateau, with broadband access now widespread and online habits relatively settled. Even if readershp has not peaked, some industry executives believe more traffic may not make much difference to their ability to generate new advertising revenue. Fees from readers look more appealing ...

* ... But how to charge is a big question. Rather than relying on a subscription model, a solution could involve micropayments – although there is no consensus on how much they would be or exactly how they might work ...

* ... And whatever the optimal system, it will need technology to drive it. `In the same way that the iPod helped sales of digital music, newspapers hope that there is a device on its way to make the online paper seem more valuable than it does on a computer screen,' Tryhorn writes. Although there has been some newspaper interest in Amazon's new Kindle reader, `few believe these first-generation digital readers represent an iPod moment.'

Sidebar links offer additional perspectives on the viability of charging for news content. Among them, Robert Andrews says `news publishers let the free genie out of the bottle – and it can't easily be put back'; he cautions that any publishers thinking about charging for content must consider whether what they offer is unique, must-read information. But Stephen Brook reports that the prevailing sentiment at a major magazine conference last week was that readers would increasingly and inevitably be asked to pay.

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07 May 2009

Online-only Doesn't Pay for Finnish Paper

Switching to an online-only format can cost newspaper publishers more than they save.

A recently released study of the Finnish financial daily Taloussanomat -- which printed its last edition in December 2007 and now focuses exclusively on delivery through the web, e-mail and mobile -- shows that the move resulted in a 52 percent savings but a 75 percent drop in revenue because of losses in print advertising and subscriptions.

The paper also severely cut its newsroom staffing levels, and most stories currently come from news agencies or other sources. Journalists who remained said they felt a lot of pressure to boost traffic figures. `If the visitor numbers are low, [the news desk] will publish some populist story like a story about David Beckham’s underwear to get reader figures up quickly,' one journalist said.

Overall, the newspaper `has seen a shift towards populism as a result of pressure to increase visitor numbers, aided and abetted by the constant availability of data on site use. There has also been a shift towards "how to" journalism,' authors Neil Thurman and Merja Myllylahti conclude.

However, while online-only papers should feel freer to exploit the potential of the digital medium without the burden of legacy content, `other burdens -- financial and logistical -- counteracted that advantage. The cumulative effect means killing the print edition does not immediately transform a title’s ability to produce interactive, nonlinear, multimedia content,' they write.

The study is to be published in Journalism Studies. A free .pdf. version is available online from the authors.


06 May 2009

Compelling Community Content

A blueprint for community newspapers in today's media environment, offered by Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is attracting a lot of attention.

The `C3' or `Complete Community Connection' plan, as summarized by Nieman Journalism Lab (and available in full from Scribd), is an implementation of ideas that Buttry developed while working on the Newspaper Next project at the American Press Institute.

Although it is a family-owned paper, the Gazette is otherwise very comparable to UK regional newspapers such as the Lancashire Evening Post or other Johnston Press dailies.

Among the areas around which Buttry suggests compelling community content can be created are:

* Driving: Features such as gas price mapping, traffic text alerts, databases on bridge inspections, parking offenders, gas pump inspections and a pothole map `can help drivers and car owners regularly over time.'

* Home: `Answerbases' can be created on such topics as property taxes, sales transactions, mortgage foreclosures, delinquencies and ratings of contractors.

* Conversation: Buttry urges newspapers to immerse themselves in social networking: incorporating blogs and Facebook Connect, developing discussion leaders to turn commenting into conversation, and offering rewards for high-value contributors.

* Calendar: A great calendar ('what's on') system is central to the idea of facilitating transactions such as reservations and ticket sales, he says.

* Local Knowledge: In Buttry’s vision, this entails a `place where people of our communities and perhaps across Iowa turn for answers to their questions about this state and its communities: databases, community resources, services, history, unique aspects of local life (attractions, institutions and events) and a user-generated encyclopedia of local knowledge.'

* Personal content opportunities: These include expanded user-contributed content areas for births, milestones, school, graduations, college life, military service, weddings, parenthood, divorce, jobs, health, pets, food, interests, retirement and other stages of life.

Buttry's blog contains the complete blueprint in a series of posts. It's well worth a read.

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05 May 2009

Webby Winners

The websites of British news organizations are world-beaters.

2009 Webby Awards, announced today, go to the Guardian for best online newspaper website and the BBC for best news website. Other UK winners include the Economist, which won the best political blog award for Democracy in America, and the Tate gallery, whose Tate Kids site captured the top award in the youth category.

The Guardian, which has captured the best online newspaper award for four of the past five years (losing last year to nytimes.com), won additional 2009 Webby awards for best podcast and best religion and spirituality site, the latter in recognition of the Belief section of Comment Is Free. The BBC captured a Lifestyle award for its online climate change initiative, Bloom.

The international Webby Awards, established in 1996 and described as "the Oscars of the Internet," honor online excellence in more than 100 categories. The Webbys are presented by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a 550-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities.

This year's awards, which will be formally presented at a ceremony in June in New York, received nearly 10,000 entries from more than 60 countries.

The Webbys include two honours: The Webby Award and The People's Voice Award. Members of the Academy select nominees for both awards and pick the winners in the first category; online users pick the People's Voice Award winners.

Users agreed with Academy members in selecting the BBC as the top news website this year. Alphaville, a live online markets report from the Financial Times, won the People's Voice Award for best business blog.

A complete list of past and current nominees and winners can be accessed from the Webby site.


01 May 2009

BBC Has Best Headline Writers

Online usability expert Jakob Nielsen says BBC News online editors 'consistently do an awesome job.' Their headlines, he says, are:

* Short.
* Rich in information, clearly summarizing the article's contents.
* Front-loaded with the most important keywords, helping users who often scan only the beginning of list items.
* Understandable out of context, aiding users who find them through search engines.
* Predictable, promising what the story delivers so users rarely waste clicks on an item that turns out to be something other than what they expected.

Nielsen found that the average BBC News headline used a mere 5 words and 34 characters. `The amount of meaning they squeezed into this brief space is incredible: every word works hard for its living,' he says.

`Visit the site daily for a week,' he urges, `and try to apply some of the BBC editors' discipline to your own headlines.'


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