Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.
Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital
media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of
the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer
Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the
world and is generally considered to have delivered the first
profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle
of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as
frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their
mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new
media startup based in San Francisco.
Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".
Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
A college classmate, Peter, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, asked me what “my take” was on the changes in the media world, referring to the de facto demise of this home town Ann Arbor News.
If you’ve been on vacation in Bali and didn’t want to pay the $15 a day resort Internet fee, the shut down of the 45,000 circulation News will make this the first city to lose its newspaper. The plan, according to owner Advance Publications, is to completely shut down the operation, lay off all empoylees, then start fresh with two new companies that will need far fewer staff. One, a Web venture called AnnArbor.com, will have some original reporting but rely substantially on reader input and community forums. A second company is described as a printing company that will publish a twice weekly newspaper fo some sort. Advance is also cutting back its daily newspapers in Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City to a thrice weekly schedule.
Types of organizations eligible for non-profit status under IRS 501(c)
My take, I wrote Peter, is that I suspect new players will see it as an opportunity to pick up the slack. They will enter with a different expense base. Maybe no single one will totally replace today's version of the newspaper, but in aggregate they will cover whatever territory for which there is a demand, e.g., an entertainment paper-- probably ad supported. More local stuff online. More stuff you can view on iPhone-like devices or Kindle-like. We’re in a period of fits and starts, but if there is a market there will be big guys or entrepreneurs who will fill the gaps. At the premium end there is the example of the for-profit (they hope) GlobalPost.com. The low end may be the for-profit (they hope) citizen journalist new AnnArbor.com.
But what about the not-for-profit model, a proposal popularized by an op-ed piece in The New York Times last month? An academic study being prepared for publication in the Journal of Media Economics this summer (I’ll post more details in July) looks at the fortunes of nonprofits in the magazine business. It notes that “nonprofit” can take many forms, both legally and as operational models. Many not for profits rely heavily on advertising revenue, just as their for-profit cousins. The study observes that they can be just as susceptible to economic downturns as for profit publications.
Indeed, at a small conference I attended earlier this month, I pointedly asked Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute whether the general downward pressures facing the newspaper industry had affected the St. Petersburg Times. That paper is something of the poster child for the non-profit model. The paper is controlled by a foundation set up by the late Nelson Poynter. If the paper has a surplus – the nonprofit term for profit—it declares a dividend. This is turn is the primary source of support for the many good program of the Poynter Institute. Edmunds had to admit that the Times is indeed taking a hit from the same forces felt by all newspapers. It has made staff cuts in its newsroom to help keep up profit. Even so, dividends are down. The Poynter Institute has a comfortable cash reserve for now. But the larger point is that the Times as well as the Institute are not immune to the forces and trends in the industry or the economy.
Philanthropic organizations—even the wealthiest—cannot defy gravity. Harvard, the richest of universities, is having to make major cutback because its endowment—line the financial markets—shrunk 22% ($8 billion) between July and October 2008 alone.
So let’s suppose that a newspaper does indeed have a billion dollar endowment behind it. To generate income it must invest that money somewhere. The more aggressively it’s invested, the more money for the newsroom. If invested in Treasury notes, the endowment is safer—but it may be short changing its mission—essentially leaving money on the table that could be used for journalism. So it takes a moderate course of investment. And suppose that lets the endowment generate a 5% return devoted to newspaper operations. That would be $50 million initially, a nice subsidy to keep up salaries, news bureaus, staffing. But what happens, as it has this past year, if the invested funds lose 20% of their value—well under the markets overall financial loses in the past year, thanks to our hypothetical endowment's conservative portfolio.
Now, with an $800 million portfolio, if it still drew 5%, it could only add $40 million to its income. What’s a publisher to do? Just as advertising and circulation revenue are falling, so is the endowment income that could otherwise prop up its finances. True, it may be better off than its fully for- profit brethren. But it will inevitably need to make cuts: in personnel, in travel, in salaries—the same types of cuts we hear about weekly.
So not-for-profit is not the solution, endowments are not the solution. What is?
As I wrote to Peter, there is not a solution. We have left behind an either/or world for one of many options. There is opportunity for non-profits, such as the well established Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting or the new Pro Publica. The entrepreneurial for-profit sector is represented by a new model with GlobalPost. The Detroit newspapers are leading the way (or were pushed) for daily newspapers in hybrid online and print. Advance Publications is trying out another for profit model in Ann Arbor.
The result will be an evolving stew of print, online, mobile, video and audio news sources—international, national, local and hyperlocal. For profit and not for profit. From existing well known media companies, from nonmedia players, from entrepreneurial start-ups. Those that will be successful and those that will prove unsuccessful.
When I teach about marketing, the most important word I emphasize is the word “some.” I tell them not to think in terms of “People want more news” or “People are willing (or unwilling) to pay for…” Market segmentation is about “some." “Some people” want. “Some people” will pay. Some. The digital technologies here and still emerging make it far more efficient to provide news, entertainment, whatever, to each of us in more forms than at any time in history.
It was striking at the Media Summit in New York today how definitive the people on the future of advertising panel seemed compared to the more unsettled tone of the one on the future of news. The news people, from Vanity Fair writer and Newser.com co-founder Michael Wolff (“We just don’t know how to fashion our product” for the new market of news consumers) to Michael Oreskes of AP and ex- of The New York Times (he said there’s a debate about whether there’s even such a thing as journalism) to Dick Meyer of NPR ex of CBS News (who quoted Clay Shirky’s recent essay on disruption of the newspaper business and said we "don’t have a clue" what’s next), were all candid about their grasp for a business model, let alone an editorial process and structure that works to produce news and satisfy an audience today. (Related thoughts on the disruption being much further than for news, here.)
Meanwhile, the advertising and marketing panelists sounded like they knew the solution -- engage consumers in a conversation, be part of a discussion, don’t just bombard them with ad messages -- and were convinced they simply have to lead others in the industry (product managers, marketers, media buyers) to think on their scale and not be locked into old methodologies. Bob Jeffrey of JWT said it doesn’t matter how much is spent on a campaign, what matters is how much it can engage an audience. Carl Fremont of Digitas called for more “active listening," then a “proactive, reactive strategy" of messaging back to consumers by joining in conversations they are having (presumably in places like social networks). He said old models of pushing ads at people weren’t going to work, and that there would be more development of social applications that provide real value and get consumers to opt in. The panelists all agreed on convergence, and also seemed to think TV would make a comeback as it became more addressable through digital technologies.
A later conversation I had with IBM researcher Bill Battino, who moderated the ad panel, said that the clients -- the companies buying the advertising -- were often leading the charge, had combined what were formally separate and segmented advertising and marketing budgets into a more unified whole from which they could then address the challenge of reaching audience through a holistic rather than silo’d media view (display ads, here, direct marketing over there...).
Whatever the state of play between clients and agencies, there was general agreement on the need for entering the “conversation” with consumers, rather than hitting them with messages, to get people to engage, to use technologies to know more about audiences, and to be genuine in messages, seemed to get general nods of agreement. One would think the same might hold for news ; after all, what better way to get at what a news consumers want than to ask them and have them contribute? I’m loathe, hesitant to say the advertising people are farther along in understanding the ways out of the current morass more than those producing news. But I can say I’ve seen it happen before, where the advertisers adapt and adopt a technology (behavioral targeting comes to mind) well before it’s talked about as a way of delivering content.
Nathan Richardson, CEO of ContentNext, writes that newspapers, with old thinking, could learn something from Silicon Valley, and their attitude of sharing both ideas and information. Well written, and a little inside peak at when he was at the Wall Street Journal. But one part of it gave me pause:
Finally had a chance to read and consider this piece. Nicely written and reasoned, and even has some smiles. One portion gives me pause:
“Portals should agree to show search results only for the original sources of news content, as opposed to outlets that have repurposed that content.”
That kind of restrictive thinking seems fair at first glance -- after all, shouldn’t the one creating the content be the one who reaps the benefit? -- but it goes against the grain of the way it’s been done not just for the past 10 years of Web journalism, but for the past 40-50 years, with broadcasters and others picking up information, and, if fairly, attributing it to the original source.
Today’s model calls more for incentive than restriction. Perhaps we could allow for some kind of prioritization in the search algorithm for the originator of the content. And some sort of additional revenue to the creator, where there is a shared revenue scheme.
But by highlighting only the creator (which will often mean the large player), Google and the other search engines would be alienating a significant chunk of their constituency, favoring one business over another, and potentially violating tenets of free speech. For example, commentary on a piece of journalism or even pickup of a small portion of it might be fair use, and thus deserve to the be linked to from the search -- and something the searcher would want to see. If the algorithm excludes those results, because they weren’t from the originator of the content, it might be a disservice all around. (Not to mention that the original’s SEO ranking would suffer because of fewer links and accesses to it.)
A final thought: Where would PaidContent be had the system of excluding repurposed content been in place?
At the Digiday Social conference today, Alan Brody of iBreakfast conjectured that we’re moving into a “relationship economy” that’s replacing the current “knowledge economy.” (Made me think of Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage -- his thesis, in a nutshell, that using relationships and “leveraging” their power is now beating the concept of “financial leverage.”) Brody talked of how relationships -- built up over years, with special people who can hire, do favors, etc. -- cannot be outsourced to faceless people overseas, while knowledge work can. He said there are MBAs and college-educated people walking around India and Zimbabwe with every bit of useful knowledge of the people with multiple degrees in the U.S. who used to be able to use that knowledge they’d acquired to make sure they’d “never have to dig a ditch.”
Still, even in a relationship economy, the technology speeds things up, adds leverage, power. Companies like Social Vibe, whose CEO Joe Marchese was also at the conference, have shortened the timeline for creating relationships from years to months. Its passionate users select ads to place on their social network pages (such as on Facebook and MySpace) and then designate charities to receive any funds they earn. Those users are passionate, and feel a tremendous connection -- a relationship, if you will -- with SocialVibe.
Still, unlike a purely transactional commercial relationship, this one, because it runs deeper is more easy for Social Vibe to violate. The company will have to treat their passionate users with extreme care and nurturing. The company, venture-funded, seeking profit, and having arrived at their current model more by accident than by grand plan, must trust its backers to not push for fast cash above all. Marchese assured me in a previous discussion (for the We Media conference), that the backers -- including VCs JAFCO and Redpoint -- won’t subjugate the need to develop and care for users to the need to turn a profit. At We Media conference there seemed something of a consensus that, in fact, by doing social good many now believe profits will be stronger over time.
(Note that both iBreakfast and We Media have been media partners of our show, Naked Media.)
I fell asleep the other night watching Twitter CEO Ev Williams on Charlie Rose (not his fault, I was tired), so am relying on PaidContent’s synopsis of what he said. He was apparently vague on how Twitter plans to make money. Co-founder Biz Stone was less so in a conversation he and I had for the We Media Game Changer awards.
Biz indicated they’re hoping to forego traditional advertising and instead quiz their power corporate users to find out what kinds of services or features they might pay for -- a way, for example, to officially verify that a Twitter account is actually from who it claims to be. From the Game Changer essay (PDF Format):
They plan to start creating revenues this year, moving up from their original plan of 2010, asking businesses like Whole Foods, Jet Blue and Comcast -- who use Twitter feeds to stay in touch with customers -- what new features and services they might pay for. He doesn’t, he says, expect you’ll see traditional Web advertising.
Biz said they don’t know what the services would be but is confident the companies they ask will have ideas that Twitter can then turn into something that will be paid for and help create a sustainable business. He said he wants it to be an easy-to-use tool (not one-off consulting). Another idea he hinted at was helping companies monitor mentions of their names, and turn that into a commercial service.
With Twitter’s open API, though, and thousands of mashups and applications, with more every week, I can’t help but wonder if ideas like what Biz is proposing will already be developed by someone else before Twitter gets to it. What’s to prevent a third party from making a powerful way for companies to scrape and find mentions of their name? Others have already tried to integrate ads. (Twittads is one example.) StockTwits is building a business off the Twitter platform. Dell has sold $1 million of equipment, it says, off its feed. So, if there is a way for Twitter to help Dell double, or quintuple that, sure, there could be a business. But will Twitter, itself, get there first? One of the very things that has made them so powerfully successful, their openness and ability of others to use and re-use the tool, may also be a challenge. On the other hand, pundits at first said Google had to way to make money.