Jim

Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

Would news by any other name still smell as … inky?

In editor, innovation, News, newspaper, Politics, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, venture on April 28, 2009 at 3:50 am

I got an interesting comment on my LinkedIn status line, which is “Jim would like to collaborate (or just brainstorm) with you on putting laid-off newspaper journalists back to work.”

The respondent said “Create a Truth Syndicate. The day is coming when when consumers will pay for vetted information.” The comment sparked a minor mudslide of questions that I thought I’d allow to spill into this blog.

I wonder in what way would a “truth syndicate” be different from what we now refer to as news. Not that news or journalism has ever had the truth market cornered. One thing I’ve learned for sure in my time in the biz: Facts are slippery little bastards. And truth is bloody vaporous.

Even well-intentioned sources get things wrong. Even diligent reporters screw up, miss a crucial detail, misunderstand the context. And there’s the vast ocean of disagreement. Not just on politics. Hell, it might be disagreement on what happened during that shootout. Or whether the refs are biased (as a long-suffering N.C. State fan, I can attest that they are. Grossly. In favor of Kerliner.)

Meanwhile, we’ve all learned to suspect that the news media harbor serious political biases. What those biases appear to be may depend on your politics, of course. But it’s common wisdom that Fox News is in the pocket of the GOP and MSNBC is not-so-secretly Team Obama. An awful lot of the “news” comes to us through the distorting filter of pundits. It’s hard to find a story that touches on national politics that isn’t infected with talking points that originated in the DNC or the RNC.

So how would a truth syndicate operate? Would it fact-check the news of the day as reported by other outlets? Or would it break news like any news organ? Would it be strictly enterprise and investigation, or is there room for sports and that jumble of everything else we call “features?” Would it just be a news wiki?

I have heard tell of corporations hiring journalists; perhaps they are performing a similar function privately, helping the bosses slog through the mire of he said-she said to find the meaningful gobbets in the day’s news. (Or maybe they’re just hacking out lame internal newsletters, I really have no idea.)

I would love to read your thoughts on what a truth syndicate might look like. What would the market be? On which media would it thrive? What’s the truth syndicate’s business model?

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Lacks security: So now that we’re all bought into Web 2.0 and stuff …

In Cops and crime on April 27, 2009 at 12:06 am

From time to time I wonder about what and how much data someone could pirate off me through my presence on the Web: notably the big “social networking” sites, such as Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Twitter. What could a thief get that could be used against me, or used in a way that would piss me off?

I don’t lose a lot of sleep over it; if a bad person wants to do harm, he’ll find a way whether through the Net or other means.

What about you? Do you take Internet steps to prevent damage to your identity, your bank account, your reputation?

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Daydreaming about a graphics-heavy newspaper (or Web site)

In editor, Freelance, graphics, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, startup, venture on April 24, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I’ve been contemplating the rash of layoffs among the specialists who draw maps and charts and explanatory diagrams for newspapers: graphic artists and graphic reporters.

If you’ll check that link, in the comments, Michael Dabrowa daydreams about a paper that converts to an exclusively infographics format. I’m no graphics whiz, but I’ve dreamed that dream, too. I once imagined that the ideal staff for SmartNews (back when it was a newspaper) would be a graphics reporter, a features reporter and a copy editor/designer. (And me, of course.) I just have a tremendous feeling for the power of polished, well-thought-out explanatory graphics. Done correctly, they provide insight at a glance that might take 500, 1,000, 20,000 words.

Graphical reporting is gravely underrated. If you want to make efficient use of shrinking newshole, build a graphic.

We have so many talented visual journalists already on board with SmartNews — really, a surfeit of skill and passion. Would love to find a way to get them involved in a salable project.

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Pondering the economics of making a news startup work on the Web

In Biz, Freelance, innovation, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, venture on April 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I ran a cross a comment on this thread that breaks down the dilemma that faces Internet startups.

It’s a great idea to have journalists curating the best tweets about a story or topic. That’s a solid content model. Now, if you want to make a living at it, you need to sort out and execute a business model.

You have two options:

1. Get massive traffic, 2MM+ pageviews/month while keeping costs low, low, low, such that you can use existing advertising networks to make a living. Their rates are insultingly low, but if you can break a million pageviews without having to pay for content or help, then you can make that work possibly.

2. Build it out into a brand with a defined, die-hard niche audience that specific types of businesses will pay a premium to reach. What about approaching the makers of some of the Twitter clients out there? They’re always looking for new users and your audience consists of super-active Twitter-users who are likely always one step ahead of the game. What if Twirl or Tweetdeck sponsored you guys for a month or two?

Very difficult for any individual journalist to drag in 2 million page views per month (I’m astonished at how few even this blog gets, even though I make almost no effort to market it. You’d think that random chance would drag in more useless, accidental traffic.) And there are only so many valuable niches around. I think of my friend Charles Apple who’s absolutely got the “visual journalist” market nailed down — but what is that worth to him or to Visual Editors in terms of advertising? I don’t see Adobe ponying up oodles of ad money. (Maybe as we all get outsourced and have to buy our own equipment and software, that’ll change.)

As publishers and executive editors have not exactly been beating down our doors, I’ve been thinking off and on about how we could grow Smartnews into it’s own direct-to-consumer Web experience. The result would probably be something like True/Slant. But probably more open, using that rating system to direct eyeballs and presumably ad revenue to journalists. I’m open to your suggestions.

Big thanks for a small post*

In editor, Freelance, innovation, News, newspaper, smartnews, startup, venture on April 10, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Thanks to Ernie at shortformblog for the shout. Smartnews thinks shortformblog is smart news. Smartnews is biased. Ernie is a good friend. Seriously, you should bookmark shortformblog, and follow it on Twitter. Ernie has a great voice and distills the news of the day beautifully, skills he learned at now-defunct Link (a young-adult oriented news tab) in Norfolk, Va.

I could imagine, down the road, a site like shortformblog that distills the content from an institution like Smartnews. Throw in some Facebook-style app-madness and “social networking” and you’ve got the Next Big Thing™. Yeah, all you venture capitalists take a number, all right? Our people will get in touch with your people.

Heh. If you’re gonna dream, dream big.

Well, back to the gritty reality of writing about colonoscopy coding.

*All of the posts at Shortformblog are small, so we’re not denigrating the chunky-text mention.

Check out this new online pub: The Paris | SF

In editor, innovation, News, publisher, startup, venture on April 9, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I ran into Jes Alexander, the publisher of The Paris | SF, in a LinkedIn.com discussion on the future of news. I was intrigued by the format of the model for The Paris, l’Herald de Paris: essentially, a free newspaper online. But built from scratch instead of on the back of an existing print version.

Alexander also runs Irreverent Homemaker, an online magazine.

I can’t tell you how successful these products are or will be, but I’m fascinated that folks are trotting out new online ventures with original content underneath the din of ad revenues plummeting, publication staffs being laid off, newspapers crashing and burning.

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News items of interest to Smartnews enthusiasts

In Biz, editor, Freelance, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on April 5, 2009 at 7:59 pm

A couple of interesting Forbes items I ran across via Twitter this afternoon.

First is last year’s article on newspapers’ revolt against Associated Press. Buried down in there is some fun stuff about the amount of money at stake. According to Forbes, AP only derives about 30 percent of its income from newspapers. That surprised me.

U.S. newspapers paid about $215 million in annual content fees to AP last year, even as they provided up to 30% of the reporting that composes AP’s daily state news coverage. AP’s fees currently average around $143,000 per paper, but the actual amount a newspaper pays per year varies greatly from paper to paper, with the largest dailies paying well in excess of $1 million a year.

That’s a boatload of cash. Maybe not AIG money, but still.
And then this:

… any alternatives would have a hard time matching the breadth and timeliness of AP’s daily news report, particularly on state news, breaking national news, photography and sports. Still, that hasn’t stopped editors from shopping around. For instance, sports news agency PA SportsTicker has experienced an uptick in inquiries from U.S. newspapers about its services, according to Sales Director Jay Imus.

Naturally, we envision a network of journalists so broad it could really begin to make a dent in this argument. Erica Smith has tallied up nearly 8,000 layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers in 2009. How many of those are writers, editors, photographers, graphic artists, designers, Web developers? If just one-tenth of them sold content through Smartnews, that’d be a hell of an amazing body or work.
Meanwhile:
The other article describes Rupert Murdoch getting on the ‘hey, maybe we should sue Google’ bandwagon. (This article’s where I found the link to the item about AP.)
Here’s an interesting thought at the bottom of this article, from Anthony Moor, deputy managing editor of the Dallas Morning News Online.

“I wish newspapers could act together to negotiate better terms with companies like Google. Better yet, what would happen if we all turned our sites off to search engines for a week? By creating scarcity, we might finally get fair value for the work we do.”

Would newspapers have the balls to try something like that?

At what cost free publicity? Heh.

In Biz, editor, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on April 3, 2009 at 11:02 pm

MediaBistro’s WebNewser picked up on Smartnews A Smarter Way to Gather Content, But at What Cost? It’s hard to complain about a little publicity, but any time you end up in the news, you realize what our sources go through when they open the paper (or turn on the TV or what have you) — you see all the niggling little things that the reporter got wrong.

So at the risk of sounding ungrateful (and I’m not, I’m glad to get the word out), here are my quibbles:

  • I’m pretty sure neither Randy nor I live in Raleigh, N.C. I used to live in Raleigh, but that was many, many moons ago — long before Smartnews was a twinkle in my eye. We do live in the Carolinas, however, so … pretty close.
  • The last sentence was a little off, too: “The cost to a small publisher (weekly circulation of less than 100,000) could run as little as $1 and go up to a flat fee for exclusive, unrestricted content for $1,000.”

    Yes, content can go for as little as $1 a pop for small publishers. However, only large publishers could ever shell out $1,000 for exclusive, unrestricted use of an item on Smartnews. So, as far as the headline, I’ll tell ya at what cost: Rock bottom prices! That’s what cost. Especially when you consider our contributors. A few bucks for a Charles Apple graphic or Martin Gee illo? Good Lord, yes.

  • In lieu of pizza party, the latest press release

    In Publishing, smartnews, The news biz on April 3, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Republishing another note from Randy. I swear, honest to goodness, I’ll get back to original content soon.

    RALEIGH, N.C. — SMARTNEWS News Cooperative unveiled its national member-only news content service on April 1, 2009, offering affordable a la carte content for publishers from a growing network of 36 journalists, artists and specialists.

    The cooperative takes an innovative approach that provides high-quality news, features, sports and visuals for print, online and broadcast, at extremely low prices. Content creators benefit from exposure to a broad network of buyers. There’s an added twist: news publishers can sell their own content via SMARTNEWS NC, creating a new revenue source for them.

    The cooperative also offers access to a growing network of consultants, a temporary labor pool, industry news, a discussion
    board, live chat and other resources for contributors, editors, publishers and directors.

    The service was created by Randy Foster and Jim McBee. Foster has been a publisher, editor, writer and consultant over more than 20 years in the newspaper and Internet industries. McBee has been an editor and designer for more than 15 years, and helped launch two free daily newspapers.

    SMARTNEWS NC is a members-only service with content available from its site, smartnewsnc.com.

    There is a huge surplus of professional journalists because of layoffs, buyouts and closures. At the same time, news publishers continue to thirst for high-quality content that fits their budgets. SMARTNEWS NC addresses all these issues.

    Offerings so far include an advice column, a 20-something column, book reviews, Dr. Gwen (a column about children and families), Poetscopes (a feature that combines horoscopes and poetry), sports columns by veteran sports writer and author Thad Mumau, feature photos, graphics, stock art and feature stories. SMARTNEWS NC plans to add breaking news and sports coverage as its membership grows.

    The cooperative approach has attracted Charles Apple and Martin Gee, two top visual journalists.

    “We have an eclectic collection of journalists,” said co-founder Randy Foster. “We’re aiming for a full plate of content offerings at a fraction of the cost of traditional syndicates and wire services.”