Category Archives: Online

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?

Building a car-friendly news environment

A 2011 post by Steve Buttry has been gnawing a hole in my consciousness for a few weeks now. It’s called “Newspapers don’t need new ideas; here are lots of ideas for new revenue streams.”

In the post, Steve talks about some of the money-left-on-the-table scenarios in the local news publishing space, but the first one really hit home:

Develop the must-have driving app for your communityI first outlined this idea two years ago in my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection. I am not aware that any news organization (or anyone else) has tried it yet. Mutter notes that the newspaper ad decline has been most severe in automobile advertising, falling from $5 billion in 2004 to $1.1 billion last year. Auto manufacturers and dealers have built better tools than the newspaper want ads section for selling cars.

Buying a car is a job most people need help with only every few years. It was an easy job to disrupt. But driving is a task many of us do daily, and it presents abundant opportunity. Community news organizations are well-positioned to offer one place where drivers can compare gas prices, buy insurance, find parking spaces, check the traffic, get emergency service, schedule maintenance, rent a car and download coupons for tires and service. And if you develop that app that drivers can use daily, it may also be the best vehicle for advertising auto sales.

That’s an outstanding idea, as far as it goes. But it got me thinking further. In most local communities around the U.S., the daily commute is done in a car, as Steve notes. But, while this certainly offers a great context-appropriate environment for car- and commute-related news and information, there may be an even bigger opportunity here, one which the march of mobile technology makes so much easier to pull off here in 2012 than even a year or two ago: car-friendly news delivery.

Imagine how useful this could be:

  • An app-like mobile browser experience, with larger buttons/identifying text for one-glance control of the in-car site. Safety first! (Yes, this can be an app, also. But let’s make it work first without the need to download anything.)
  • Tight integration with a traffic-alert system, customized to my commute pattern AND my current location.
  • An easy means for users to post news from their commute, in photos, video, pre-written text snippets or, for passengers in the car, free-form text. For an outstanding example of how this can be implemented, look at the Reports function in the social-traffic service, Waze.
  • Original audio programming, both live and podcast. Streaming audio is cheap to the consumer; downloaded audio is effectively free.
  • Dial-in capability for the full talk-radio experience.
  • Read-aloud versions of selected stories and the latest breaking news. Yes, this is that bad idea from the early 2000s, dressed up in new clothes simply because the quality of machine-read content is finally catching up with our aspirations. It’s not James Earl Jones, true, but it’ll do, used sparingly.
  • The ability to pin articles and related content to a user’s private space for later retrieval.
  • Here’s what it’s not: Yet another wrapper or skin for the full content of the local news service. For this to work well, it needs to be tightly curated and updated; it can’t simply be a mass regurgitation of everything that’s on the homepage of the mothership. It’s just enough news, carefully selected and presented with a mobile- and audio-first bias.

Remember: As of this year, more than half the cell phones in use in the USA are smartphones. Presenting app-like web pages, knowing a user’s location, playing audio and video — it’s all in there just waiting to be accessed intelligently by users and the local news organizations who love them.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, Creative Commons License

Local news is not an island

On a recent edition of his Critical Path podcast, (right around the 52-minute mark) Horace Dediu notes an interesting fact hiding in plain sight in the most recent Apple keynote at WWDC: Apple is entering into more partnerships for content and solutions than ever before. Partnerships such as with MLB or NBA for scores and stats for Siri and Yelp for restaurant reviews in Apple’s new mapping system. His point is that Apple is moving ever-so-perceptibly away from the old approach of build-it or buy-it for most of their offerings to a new openness to work with the best that’s out there, perhaps toward their larger goal of beating Google at the most lucrative slice of the search game, faceted search for high-interest — and high-spend by advertiser — activities.

So, if we’re musing on this while gazing at our WWAD wrist-bands, what’s the message here?

Jeff Jarvis gave us the clue years ago: Do what you do best and link to the rest or, in this case, partner for the rest.

Local news organizations have a default mental switch marked Do It All, but does it really make sense to recreate a database of restaurants, ratings and reviews and hope that people will help us populate it, or would it be better to partner with Yelp and/or Foodspotting and incorporate that information into a tool that’s tuned to the specific needs of people in our communities? I think, increasingly, the answer may be yes.

How to craft social media rules for journalists

This is a bit old, but I hadn’t seen it until today, thanks to the topic rearing its ugly head again around the recent Barrett Tryon kerfuffle.

Anyway, here’s John Paton, outlining his company’s social media rules for journalists:

Some of you have asked what are JRC’s Employee Rules For Using Social Media. To keep it simple I have reduced them to three:

The sweet payoff is at the link.

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.



Can local advertising for small businesses be easier?

There’s no question that local advertising on the web should work. After all, the digital space is where audience is growing. Also, it’s much, much easier to target potential customers, geographically, demographically and psychographically.

And, yet, outside of Google’s products, there haven’t been a lot of easy, simple digital solutions to help a small business to promote itself. Banners may or may not help with branding, but small business — even in service industries — is a retail business. Branding’s nice, but if the phone doesn’t ring or the leads don’t appear in the inbox, the prototypical Mom or Pop is probably not going to re-up that campaign next month.

That’s why I can’t stop thinking about a new approach just announced from Publish2 called BreakingPromos. It falls into that “I wish I’d thought of this” category.

The idea behind BreakingPromos is simple and inspired. It starts with the premise that many savvy local businesses already know how to promote themselves through Twitter and Facebook  – sharing news of a Happy Hour deal or the new swimwear collection, for instance — but that such promotions work almost exclusively for the existing customer base only. It’s smart to market to your fans, true, but it’s not enough.

Advertising needs to attract and create new customers. How to do that, using the spirit and methods of Twitter and Facebook? Enter Breaking Promos.

  • It’s a platform for local advertisers to create tweet-like ads, which are then aggregated on a local news site. These are also then sent on to the advertiser’s own Twitter feed, Facebook page and beyond. But they start on the local news site, where an interested local audience is concentrated.
  • These promos are categorized and promoted to the site’s users, becoming themselves valuable content about the commercial/retail/entertainment life of the community.
  • The price point is extremely low — a buck or less — and sold in bundles of single-use credits. Because this is a reverse-chron feed and, assuming there is decent adoption of the platform by competitors, the system is set up to motivate frequent use of credits and to reward that use through immediate retail traffic or lead generation. If you’re thinking this sounds like gamification of the ad sales process, you’re right.
  • It’s self-managed on the back-end by the advertiser him- or herself. Once a relationship is established, whether through traditional sales channels or word-of-mouth, there is no further need of administrative or sales support by the local news site.
  • It’s promoted on the local site through a ticker of current deals, a landing page for all promos and, if the site is being creative, through integration with other utility/service content for users.

This is how they’ve mocked it up on the Publish2 site:

Price of entry for the local advertiser is as little as $10 to start (with each placement costing a dollar). The cost to the local publisher is as much as half of that dollar to be split with Publish2. In John Paton’s parlance, five stacked dimes per ad will flow to the publisher. Not a lot to be sure, until and unless there’s scale.

So there are a lot of if-then statements in the Breaking Promos promise, but on the face of it, it starts to feel like at least one piece of the local puzzle — the one where advertisers in the community get instant gratification for their ad spend — is being solved. There will still be the need for branding campaigns, long-form videos, events, etc., but this simple approach to scratching that primary itch may free up sales and production resources to actually start to deliver those more ambitious programs for local and regional advertisers.

What do you think? Is this a step in the right direction for local publishers who want to help businesses in their community to succeed? Will this kind of direct-response advertising have the kind of ROI for local businesses that the want and need?

Pie photo by Joselito Tagarao, Creative Commons license.