Category Archives: Newspapers

Did Craiglist just leave the door open a crack?

Ben Brooks has a great post that gets straight to the point about a business that, suddenly, is wide-open with possibilities again: Local classified ads.

I can’t be the only one that thinks Craigslist is ripe for a disruption, because there is so much wrong with it that goes beyond the hideous and user hostile design of the site…

I would remind you that no matter the size of your network, if your service becomes too douchey the users will flee for greener pastures. Primes examples: MySpace and Digg — both relics of a different time (though Digg is trying a comeback)…

By far, the most interesting of his five suggestions of what to do toward that end is the last one:

5. Charge per listing, like $2 to post an ad. This does two things: removes ads; and helps cut down on SPAM listings.

I think he’s right. The very thing that rocketed Craigslist to popularity and destroyed, utterly, an entire category of income for local newspapers – the ads are free! — is now the piece that’s getting in the way of a quality user experience. Because no matter how much you spruce up the interface (#1 on Ben’s list), when it comes to ads, content actually IS king. Charging something nominal for an ad* doesn’t just create a revenue stream, it ensures that the ad itself is real and has value.

But how to stand up such an effort quickly? How could, say, the daily newspapers in our major cities take this advice and run with it (even if Ben wasn’t necessarily thinking of newspapers when he wrote his post)?

Given that so many metro dailies have thrown in with Press+ for their paywall initiatives, perhaps this could be a good line extension (and one that, unlike the paywall, is user-friendly) for the service which has already crossed two important hurdles: It’s in widespread use but managed centrally and it is capable of completing transactions.

Your ball, newspaper people…

* This is not to say that the newspaper industry biz wouldn’t screw this up by getting greedy and charging by the word, with upcharges for “premiums” like photos, maps and video or some other such genius move. Great ideas sometimes do turn out to be Ishtar in execution.

What if your users actually want to play along with NBC’s tape-delay?

Jay Rosen just asked this on Twitter:

So how come no one’s writing about the odd and forbidding art of eluding the news when you want to watch a race on tape delay in prime time?

The answer I had when I was with The Baltimore Sun now seems quaint, based on what I’m seeing on most news sites this week.

Back then, we decided that, even though the result of an event was “news” in the strictest sense, it wasn’t exactly the kind of life-or-death news that we felt that site visitors absolutely had to get, no matter what. So we wrote home-page headlines that said the race had been run, but required the user to click through for the result. On the sports home page, though, we went with the results unfiltered. The thinking here was that anyone actively visiting a sports section during an Olympics should expect to see all of the most recent news in that category, but that more-casual visitors to the home page should at least be given the benefit of the doubt.

It came down to this: If someone has decided that they want to spend three hours in the evening, unspoiled, with the tape-delayed coverage, why should we ruin that for them?

This week, at The Sun, different rules are in place, as every result of hometown hero Michael Phelps is trumpeted on the home page the moment it’s known.

Given that such news is almost impossible to miss if you dip into Twitter or Facebook or your email for just a moment this week, doesn’t that make sense? Shouldn’t news organizations now just assume that everyone is spoiled and run with the story on the home page?

At the risk of sounding out of touch with the prevailing wisdom, no.

Yes NBC is blowing it on many key details, and they should have both live-streams online and the nightly recap, but they’re mounting a massive, two-week-long entertainment that, it turns out, a lot of people want to watch. The viewers all know they’re being “lied” to, that the result is long-settled and the athletes chilled out with their beverage of choice hours ago, but it’s how they’ve chosen to spend their evenings and, really, will a democratic society collapse if we make them click on one more link to find out the result as it happens?

 

Editing the news: In 2012 it’s a bold new idea

Mark Twain didn’t actually say “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” (It was Blaise Pascal.)

But the point holds. Writing short and tight takes time.

Which might explain why the news web site I used to run has 485 links today on its home page. It’s just easier to include everything and let the reader sort it all out.

But what would a news site look like if editors actually, you know, edited.

One answer arrived this week. This was not a Knight News Challenge winner or the result of months of research and development. It’s a quick side-project from Mule Design, and it’s called Evening Edition.

This is what the news world could look like If simplicity-appreciating geeks ran it.

Jon Mitchell of Read Write Web has the back-story, in his article These Designers Did for Fun What News Sites Can’t Do to Save Their Business:

It’s edited by Anna Rascouët-Paz, online media editor at Annual Reviews. She combs the day’s political and economic news from around the world, picks out the stories she finds important, and writes a paragraph explaining the significance of each story, including links to the reporting.

“It’s not aggregation,” (the agency’s design director Mike) Monteiro makes clear. She often combines several sources into a concise summary. It draws on other people’s reporting, like just about all of what passes as news these days – but Evening Edition performs a critical journalistic function that often falls by the wayside online: It elevates the significant information above the noise.

Oh and this: They took it from concept to live site in about a week.

I’m making a conscious choice here. I’m going to celebrate what’s right with Evening Edition, rather than focus on what feels wrong (most notably that it wears its once-a-day-with-no-updates ethos with a pride that’s weird in a medium that is built upon being live and linked).

There’s a lot to like.

What’s right: It’s edited. Like it or not, Evening Edition is the result of choices by a human editor. What you get is there because she decided that’s what you get. Great Ceasar’s Ghost!

What’s right: It’s clean. Look at this on your laptop and you’ll see a simple two-column layout. Open it on your phone, and the responsive single-column design is there in all its scroll-friendly glory.

What’s right: It’s just enough news. Assuming the editor does her job well, this could very well be all you need to read to feel as if you’re reasonably well caught-up on the day’s important stories.

What’s right: It exists. This isn’t a scribble in a notebook, it’s not a mind-map and it most assuredly is not a committee meeting that’s scheduled for every other Thursday. This is a swing at an answer to the question of how to present news to a busy modern reader. It may not be the perfect answer but, as the bold-face says, it exists, here and now.

What do you think? Is just-enough news a concept whose time has come?

Newspaper companies have something valuable, if they’re willing to sell

You know why newspapers have had such a hard time dealing with the Internet? It’s because, back in what seems like pre-history, before we all had near-ubiquitous access to anything and everything, wired and wireless, the daily newspaper functioned a whole lot like the Internet, only thrown onto our porches by kids on bicycles.

There was the news of the world and the local community. There were sports updates, movie reviews and calendar items and notices of business openings and comments from readers. And in the back, a database of job openings, stock quotes, and stuff for sale. The Daily Miracle, they called it, curated and edited for your approval seven times a week.

For newspapers, the Internet at the turn of the century wasn’t so much a distribution channel as a much more efficiently modeled, deeper, broader (and — this was the part that seemed so foreign to many newspapers at the time — live) re-imagining of the platform that had been honed and perfected for more than 200 years on the to-that-point most efficient and profitable delivery mechanism known: ink on paper.

For a while, merely repurposing the newspaper’s mass, general model to the new platform worked. There were plenty of people willing to suffer through uninspired designs and pop-under ads to get at the primary piece of the pre-internet newspaper world which conveyed to the wired era with enough value to make it worthwhile: lots of original reporting, edited by pros.

Now, that’s nice, but not enough. There’s plenty news online — has been for years — and little need for pre-Internet generalism packaged up in print-aping sections. And there’s especially little need for all of that behind a paywall.

Which brings us to an inspired post by Kyle Baxter, called “A Newspaper for the Web.” Baxter first looks at why we read (present-tense) and read (past-) newspapers:

I don’t think, though, that reading the day’s headlines was the newspaper’s only purpose. If that were the case, headlines with very small stories would be sufficient. The newspaper was a powerful medium because they could be a deep window into the world. They provided readers with a clear understanding of what’s going on in the world that’s worth knowing, meaningful insight to what’s important about each of those headlines, and the opportunity to learn about topics readers never would have sought out themselves. Coverage, insight, serendipity. All in one place, consistently.

Baxter then goes on to define, in detail, how that itch, scratched, could be rebuilt into a thriving 21st Century business:

Here’s what it is: an organization whose goal is to be the only place readers need to go to find out what’s going on that’s important (coverage) and what’s meaningful about news events and relevant issues (insight and context). Go deep on certain subjects (politics, technology, sports) and make their writing on it so good that anyone interested in the subject has no choice but to read it. Embrace the web, rather than resist it. General-interest articles are freely available, and verticals are gated but open to links. Publish links to terrific pieces from other sources, and do so as prominently as they do their original content.

Here’s the business model: rather than target a mass audience with advertisements and augment it with subscriptions, target audiences passionate about certain subjects with reasonable subscriptions and augment with advertising to mass audiences. Provide everyone with a collection of original reporting, in-depth reporting on topical issues, and links to must-read pieces from other sources that, together, provide coverage of news and insight into its meaning. Use the general-interest content, which is completely open to share, to build readership and funnel people toward the verticals. Allow subscribers to share articles.

There’s lots more at the link, well worth your time if you care at all about the survival of journalism.

 

 

I love printed newspapers and want to be proud of the ones we produce when we go to three editions a week. At the same time, we need to focus on the growth of New Orleans’ digital audience. It’s a vital part of our future. We can’t hesitate to embrace it.

- New Orleans Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss

In print, Sunday should be an event

While papers start cutting back on the number of days they publish in print, they shouldn’t miss a great opportunity to make those days they do print be really special. Sunday, for instance.

Remember The San Francisco Panorama? It was an issue of McSweeney’s that took the form of a fat Sunday newspaper.

It cost a small fortune ($16). It had section, after section, after section. And it was unabashedly PRINT.

It sold out. It sold out on the day it was first distributed in SF, then it sold out its overrun for national sales.

Yes, The Panorama was a one-off stunt, but Sunday papers can still be weekly events. And, if they’re full of readable, useful and fun journalism and relevant commercial content, newspaper companies can charge a lot for them.

Reducing The Times-Picayune to three-times-weekly is a great first step

Photo by Infrogmation, Creative Commons via flickr

I’m not going to pretend that I’m surprised that there is so much hand-wringing, beating-of-breast and genuine concern over the New Orleans Times-Picayune decision to go to a digital-first footing. Anytime there’s a reduction in the frequency of the presses running, there is going to be an immediate and visceral reaction.

I get that. And, if I’m being honest, a small part of me feels the same way.

But I also wonder whether all of these people, who want to keep the paper part of the newspaper alive, have thought through their positions.

Because I think that the leadership of the Times-Picayune has made the first great 21st Century move for a major American newspaper. By restricting the print-run to those days on which the papers actually make money, they’re assuring that the Times-Picayune — the version you can pick up at the newsstand — will continue to exist and even thrive for years to come.

The reason is as simple as the math. Sunday is the big whopper for any U.S. newspaper, worth anywhere from 60-75% of the week’s revenue. Wednesdays are good, too, due to the generally accepted habit for supermarkets to advertise on that day, along with Friday, thanks to movie ads and other weekend-activity-promoting content and advertising.

The rest of the week? A total loss. Monday, Tuesday and Saturday are just severed aortas of cash, bleeding out, killing the organization. Thursdays are a wash in many communities as well.

Which puts New Orleans in the seemingly paradoxical position of saving the paper by killing parts of it. That won’t please the fans of the pulped edition, of course, but it really is in their best interest.

Because, as even the most casual gardener could tell you, pruning isn’t confusing or bizarre or unusual. It’s just what you do: make the plant healthier by removing what’s in the way.

What’s in the way in this case is the traditional assumption that a great metro news organization must publish a printed paper every day.

The good people of New Orleans deserve a strong Times-Picayune, just like every community deserves a strong local news organization of its own. Despite the furrowed brows to the contrary, I believe they just took a big step in that direction.

(Next: But what becomes of The Daily Habit?)