Jim

Posts Tagged ‘publisher’

Prescription for SND’s ills

In Biz, editor, Freelance, graphics, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, Smartness, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on June 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Like many other news and former news folks, I’ve been unable to tear my eyes away from the Society for News Design trainwreck. (Charles Apple’s coverage here) And like many others, I’ve been involved in sotto voce conversations in the wings as the blood spread across the stage.

First, my background: I’m not now nor have I ever been an officer of SND. I let my membership lapse recently, as I’m out of the business. I’ve been a paying member off and on over the years, always (as far as I can remember) out of pocket. A Quick Course in Chapel Hill really turned my head around on newspaper design in the early ’90s and planted the seed for my career.  Many of my friends and most people I would call colleagues are or have been members. I’ve attended three annual workshops — San Jose, Houston, and Boston — on my own dime and felt they were worth every penny. My only other official connection was a lecture session I gave at a Quick Course in Salt Lake City. So, I’m a semi-active former member, not in any way an important voice.

Here’s the upshot: SND needs a wholesale reinvention. SND needs to get into the news business by promoting and incubating journalistic ventures that will eventually compete with the current mainstream press. Yes, I said it, it’s time for SND to bite the hand that’s fed it for decades.

The news industry has let us down. I can’t count how many of my friends and colleagues have lost their jobs or are just waiting for the axe to fall. And the axe appears to have fallen disproportionately on “visual” people. It’s time to fight back, and to do it in a way that genuinely supports the interests of members — by creating jobs.

Who is doing that, right now? A scattering of disconnected ventures, each hoping to be the next big thing, many with little or no money or support, just enthusiasm and big dreams. Those of you who’ve followed my Smartnews misadventures know all about that. These efforts need support: investors, clerical/intern help, good ideas, marketing. These are not necessarily SND’s strengths, but they need to be. News needs that. Those of us who believe in design as a journalistic tool, who love infographics and grids and, yes, even the Typeface du Jour need that.

Jay Small, whom you could call an important voice, is on the right track:

SND must represent the brightest thinking focused on innovation in communicating the news. Typeface du jour? Web width of the month? Hell, no. Attracting and engaging news consumers and enabling communities around the news? Oh, yeah!

SND needs to fill another leadership vacuum: The gap between so-called visual people and word people. Far too many designers, photographers and graphic artists have weak spelling, grammar and reporting skills. Way too many writers and editors have no clue about the synergy of their efforts with those of everyone else. Much has been said about bridging the worlds, but the silos remain. And toss multimedia and Web skills into the mix, too. There are just not enough jobs out there to justify separations of church and state, anymore. Anyone who’s lucky enough to have a newsroom position has to know it all. But so few of us do.

Some of SND’s training does address this: The folks I most respect get it about perpetrating good journalism, about making every word and image count. But it’s in our nature to go for the pretty over the effective. We’ve got to focus on changing that if we want to have a place at the table.

If SND were to do all that, I’m afraid that much of what it focuses on now — the big contest, the annual meeting — would have to take a backseat. It’d be the end of an era. But, let’s face it, folks, we’re at the end of a journalism era.

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Want to get back at evil corporate greedia? Carving each other up ain’t gonna do the job

In Biz, editor, graphics, newspaper, Publishing, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on May 2, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Lots of bitterness and fury from people whom Tribune has canned recently. Hell, I just got a 10 percent pay cut in my non-newspaper job, so I feel — well, a sliver of the pain, myself.

It appears the head-rolling — which seems disproportionately distributed among “visual” folks — has brought long-built tension over how much value designers and copy editors add to a newsroom to a head. Couple that with resentment toward the survivors, and you’ve got a bloodbath.

OK. I get it. Newspaper owners don’t think we’re worth as much as writers (I say “we” because, though I have a writing job now, the better part of my news career was in layout, copy editing and design.) Many of our jobs have become, as The Yelv points out, obsolete.

What I don’t get is journalists turning on each other.

If you want to make a future for yourself in news, you’re going to need every friend you can find. Now’s not the time to burn bridges — at least not with our colleagues. I will go so far as to say that corporate news has already burned our bridge — and this time, I mean “our” in the sense of all journalists.

I’m not saying this to be a pollyanna. I’m saying we need a better survival instinct.

I won’t lie; publishers and executive editors have disappointed me a little in the lack of enthusiasm for Smartnews. You would think that now would be the time they’d take an interest in something that could reduce costs. They are so shellshocked, however, they cannot even begin to look two steps forward in their game. And they don’t really have a lot of leeway; I understand the money is tightly controlled right now. No one wants to play guinea pig.

I can live with that. They don’t owe me anything.

Where I’m much more disappointed is in the utter lack of heart I keep finding among my colleagues to do something concrete about their predicament. Apart from a job search.

Look, it doesn’t have to be Smartnews. Maybe a journalist doesn’t see the value or the future, or doesn’t trust us. I can live with that, too.

Do something creative. We pride ourselves on our creativity, do we not? The possibilities are infinite. Do it yourself, like my friend Ernie with Short Form Blog. That’s a great example of a designer/editor redirecting his efforts to the Web. Before, he was a curator of news for print. Now, he curates for the Web. Get involved with Publish2. Take an ad sales person out for drinks and pick her brain.

Breaking out the machetes ain’t gonna work, folks. We’ve lost one war, already.

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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.

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.”

    Tomfoolery: Smartnews goes live April 1

    In Freelance, Publishing, smartnews on March 30, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Randy Foster sent along a note to all our Facebook friends. I thought I’d repost it here:

    On Wednesday, when SMARTNEWS NC goes live, there will be three different flavors of the site:

    1. The landing page and the only site that is public. This is where stumblers, referrals and prospects will encounter SMARTNEWS. It will include samples of content, basic marketing information, links to FAQs, resources for asking more questions, and online forms for joining SMARTNEWS NC.

    2. The password-protected main site. This will be similar to the site you see now, but will behind a password protected wall. Members will receive user names and passwords via e-mail Tuesday. Guest accounts are available for our Facebook friends and for member prospects who want to get a better feel for the service.

    3. Password-protected navigation interface. This site will be no-frills-simple and designed for busy editors who want to get to what they need quickly. Think of it more as a Web application user interface than a Web site.

    We have 30 contributors signed up. If you’re one and you still haven’t sent me your information or content, now’s the time. If you’ve been thinking about joining SMARTNEWS NC, now’s also the time.

    Thanks for being a SMARTNEWS friend.

    Randy Foster
    SMARTNEWS

    So, meanwhile, check out Smartnews before it goes behind the wall. And join our Facebook group and help us figure this thing out.

    ‘Damn the torpedoes!’ Now’s no time to slow down on Smartnews

    In Biz, Fayetteville, Freelance, Publishing, smartnews, The news biz on March 27, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Charles Apple kindly gave me a platform to pimp Smartnews a little more, in advance of taking the experiment live on April 1. Randy in particular has been actively recruiting publishers, hammering away at state and regional press associations and the like. It’s a monumental task: Just think of the thousands of newspapers; alt weeklies; city, regional and state magazines. And over the horizon — niche and trade pubs, English-language pubs outside the United States, and on and on.

    Lest I sound too excited about it all, it’s important to remember that we’re in the proof-of-concept phase. Realistically, this predates even internal alpha-testing, as far as the Web site. We just want to bull ahead as time’s a-wasting. Flying by the seats of our pants, to cop an old cliche, just as with SmartNews (the Fayetteville, N.C., newspaper (R.I.P.)) and Bluffton Today. Newspapers are in deep trouble; they’re dropping journalists like a dog sheds fur in the summer. We want to do what we can while we can.

    I don’t think American print news will rebound, even if the ridiculous corporate debt is somehow miraculously resolved. The job losses will be permanent. But the need for news and information remains — my god, there’s a hunger for it — and advertisers still believe more strongly in print and “traditional” media than they do in the Web. Should all news media collapse in the next few years anyway, we should at least have quite a collection of talent at hand. Whatever the medium, whatever the business model, at some point that’s got to be worth something.