By paulgillin | October 27, 2011 - 4:46 pm - Posted in Fake News

The New York Times released quarterly earnings that indicated that is paywall is working. The report is the first to give some indication of incremental subscriber growth beyond the initial surge of sign-ups that came when the paywall went up in March. It shows that more than a quarter million people are now paying at least the $15 minimum fee. Even better is that traffic to the NYT.com website is actually up 2% from a year ago.

“The Times has created the perfect paywall,” writes Ryan Chitturn on Columbia Journalism Review. “It’s getting tens of millions of dollars from hardcore readers while letting in enough Google traffic and casual readers to continue boosting its online readership and collecting ad revenue off of those eyeballs.”

Chitturn estimates that the Times will take in about $63 million in digital subscriber revenue this year and more than $210 million in total digital revenue. That’s more than it costs to operate the newsroom. Which means that The New York Times could theoretically get out of the print business entirely and still make money.

New York Times Paywall

Does that mean it’s time for everyone to jump into the pool? Bill Mitchell thinks so. Writing on Poynter.org, he tells of moderating a panel at the World Editors Forum in which publishers who had taken the paywall plunge spoke of their initial trepidation and then relief when the steep declines in traffic that they had feared failed to materialize. Traffic to the Berliner Morgenpost has actually doubled since it put up a paywall in late 2009.

Mitchell quotes The New York Times’ Jim Roberts saying the wall has had a morale dividend. “There is more of an investment I feel in the newsroom among our journalists since the introduction of the paywall. They feel a greater stake in the product,” he said.

Perhaps the time is right. The Newspaper Association of America reports that traffic to newspaper websites jumped 20% in September compared to a year ago among the coveted adult demographic. “Average daily visits were up 21%; total pages viewed were up 10%; total minutes spent were up 11 %; and unique visitors were up 9 %,” the NAA reported.

Thus the great paradox continues. Newspapers are more popular than they’ve ever been, but the business model is broken beyond repair. The NAA numbers are encouraging, and perhaps indicates a flight to quality among readers who are fed up with social media noise. For the past five years people have been  publishing all kinds of nonsense online because they could. Now the novelty is wearing off and quality is becoming a differentiation point.

Google’s new Panda search algorithm is supposed to be a game changer in its ability to distinguish quality content from crap. We noted recently that Demand Media, which specializes in crap, has had to remove 300,000 articles from its website because Google won’t pay attention to them anymore. And the world hardly noticed.

The fact that newsrooms turn out a good product has never been debatable, but the idea that people who had been accustomed to getting it for free for 15 years would decide to pay for it is still an open question.

Give credit to the early adopters for fine-tuning the balance of free vs. paid content to achieve some success. The idea is to grant just enough access to entice readers to pay but not enough to give away the farm. The Wall Street Journal lets you read a couple of hundred words gratis but then wants a credit card. Perhaps it and the Times have figured out the formula.

We’ve been skeptical about paywalls for two years, but we’d be the first to cheer their success.  If they enable good journalism to flourish once again, we’re all for it.

Washington Post Co. Holds Out

Katharine WeymouthApparently the Washington Post Co. isn’t convinced. Publisher Katharine Weymouth was quoted in Politico last week saying that paid subscriptions don’t make sense for the Post at the moment. The newspaper’s philosophy is that its website should be “open to everybody and attract as many people as we can to spend as much time as they can with our journalism, and assume that that will bring them back for more.”

Politico points out that the Post has hardly been a beacon of publishing success lately. It has shed more than 45% of its newsroom staff and it just last month announced plans to close nine of its 11 suburban regional bureaus. The Post Co. does have a couple of things going for it, however, including its profitable Kaplan education division and its phenomenal 30% market penetration. You’d think a market share like that would be an incentive to charge more for the product, but Weymouth seems in no hurry. She isn’t ruling out a paywall but says she’s content to wait and see what works.

“They Won’t Invest in You”

Invantory is developing software tools to help people sell things. It wants to be kind of an alternative to Craigslist, with a mobile twist. The founders thought newspaper publishers would be potential customers, because they already know the classified advertising business and they have a desirable channel. But Invantory gave up on doing business with newspaper publishers. The principal reason: their computer are a mess.

“Newspapers’ online technology platforms [are] not standard,” wrote co-founder Ian Lamont on the Invantory blog. “This means that non-trivial integration work is required for practically any new feature or service, whether created in-house or purchased from a vendor. There are dozens of online content management systems (CMS) in use, most heavily customized.”

In other words, any chance newspaper publishers might have to federate their once-highly profitable classified advertising businesses into a network that could compete with Craigslist is undercut by technology decisions made years ago and incompatibilities perpetuated by customization.

The Invantory co-founders met with Newsosaur Alan Mutter at the New England Newspaper Publishers Association. Mutter, who himself tried to start a business to service newspaper publishers a couple of years ago, told them to forget about pursuing a model based up on serving the dying newspaper industry. “VCs with any experience won’t invest in you,” he said.

Miscellany

The i newspaper celebrated its first anniversary this week, challenging the conventional wisdom that print dailies are dead. The commuter-friendly daily, which delivers news in bite sized nuggets, has succeeded in building a paid circulation of 184,000 during its first year. And it’s reportedly profitable, too.


“Data journalism,” in which reporters mine public information to discover nuggets of news, is an increasingly popular discipline. Editors Weblog has a list of free tools anybody can use to become a data journalist.

By paulgillin | - 4:46 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

The New York Times released quarterly earnings that indicated that is paywall is working. The report is the first to give some indication of incremental subscriber growth beyond the initial surge of sign-ups that came when the paywall went up in March. It shows that more than a quarter million people are now paying at least the $15 minimum fee. Even better is that traffic to the NYT.com website is actually up 2% from a year ago.
“The Times has created the perfect paywall,” writes Ryan Chitturn on Columbia Journalism Review. “It’s getting tens of millions of dollars from hardcore readers while letting in enough Google traffic and casual readers to continue boosting its online readership and collecting ad revenue off of those eyeballs.”
Chitturn estimates that the Times will take in about $63 million in digital subscriber revenue this year and more than $210 million in total digital revenue. That’s more than it costs to operate the newsroom. Which means that The New York Times could theoretically get out of the print business entirely and still make money.
New York Times Paywall
Does that mean it’s time for everyone to jump into the pool? Bill Mitchell thinks so. Writing on Poynter.org, he tells of moderating a panel at the World Editors Forum in which publishers who had taken the paywall plunge spoke of their initial trepidation and then relief when the steep declines in traffic that they had feared failed to materialize. Traffic to the Berliner Morgenpost has actually doubled since it put up a paywall in late 2009.
Mitchell quotes The New York Times’ Jim Roberts saying the wall has had a morale dividend. “There is more of an investment I feel in the newsroom among our journalists since the introduction of the paywall. They feel a greater stake in the product,” he said.
Perhaps the time is right. The Newspaper Association of America reports that traffic to newspaper websites jumped 20% in September compared to a year ago among the coveted adult demographic. “Average daily visits were up 21%; total pages viewed were up 10%; total minutes spent were up 11 %; and unique visitors were up 9 %,” the NAA reported.
Thus the great paradox continues. Newspapers are more popular than they’ve ever been, but the business model is broken beyond repair. The NAA numbers are encouraging, and perhaps indicates a flight to quality among readers who are fed up with social media noise. For the past five years people have been  publishing all kinds of nonsense online because they could. Now the novelty is wearing off and quality is becoming a differentiation point.
Google’s new Panda search algorithm is supposed to be a game changer in its ability to distinguish quality content from crap. We noted recently that Demand Media, which specializes in crap, has had to remove 300,000 articles from its website because Google won’t pay attention to them anymore. And the world hardly noticed.
The fact that newsrooms turn out a good product has never been debatable, but the idea that people who had been accustomed to getting it for free for 15 years would decide to pay for it is still an open question.
Give credit to the early adopters for fine-tuning the balance of free vs. paid content to achieve some success. The idea is to grant just enough access to entice readers to pay but not enough to give away the farm. The Wall Street Journal lets you read a couple of hundred words gratis but then wants a credit card. Perhaps it and the Times have figured out the formula.
We’ve been skeptical about paywalls for two years, but we’d be the first to cheer their success.  If they enable good journalism to flourish once again, we’re all for it.

Washington Post Co. Holds Out

Katharine WeymouthApparently the Washington Post Co. isn’t convinced. Publisher Katharine Weymouth was quoted in Politico last week saying that paid subscriptions don’t make sense for the Post at the moment. The newspaper’s philosophy is that its website should be “open to everybody and attract as many people as we can to spend as much time as they can with our journalism, and assume that that will bring them back for more.”
Politico points out that the Post has hardly been a beacon of publishing success lately. It has shed more than 45% of its newsroom staff and it just last month announced plans to close nine of its 11 suburban regional bureaus. The Post Co. does have a couple of things going for it, however, including its profitable Kaplan education division and its phenomenal 30% market penetration. You’d think a market share like that would be an incentive to charge more for the product, but Weymouth seems in no hurry. She isn’t ruling out a paywall but says she’s content to wait and see what works.

“They Won’t Invest in You”

Invantory is developing software tools to help people sell things. It wants to be kind of an alternative to Craigslist, with a mobile twist. The founders thought newspaper publishers would be potential customers, because they already know the classified advertising business and they have a desirable channel. But Invantory gave up on doing business with newspaper publishers. The principal reason: their computer are a mess.
“Newspapers’ online technology platforms [are] not standard,” wrote co-founder Ian Lamont on the Invantory blog. “This means that non-trivial integration work is required for practically any new feature or service, whether created in-house or purchased from a vendor. There are dozens of online content management systems (CMS) in use, most heavily customized.”
In other words, any chance newspaper publishers might have to federate their once-highly profitable classified advertising businesses into a network that could compete with Craigslist is undercut by technology decisions made years ago and incompatibilities perpetuated by customization.
The Invantory co-founders met with Newsosaur Alan Mutter at the New England Newspaper Publishers Association. Mutter, who himself tried to start a business to service newspaper publishers a couple of years ago, told them to forget about pursuing a model based up on serving the dying newspaper industry. “VCs with any experience won’t invest in you,” he said.

Miscellany

The i newspaper celebrated its first anniversary this week, challenging the conventional wisdom that print dailies are dead. The commuter-friendly daily, which delivers news in bite sized nuggets, has succeeded in building a paid circulation of 184,000 during its first year. And it’s reportedly profitable, too.


“Data journalism,” in which reporters mine public information to discover nuggets of news, is an increasingly popular discipline. Editors Weblog has a list of free tools anybody can use to become a data journalist.

By paulgillin | March 9, 2010 - 1:32 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Paywalls

TechCrunch has an interview with Marc Andreessen in which the Internet boy wonder advises media companies to “burn the boats,” an analogy to the instructions Cortés supposedly gave his army upon landing in Mexico nearly 500 years ago in order to insure that the soldiers pressed on.

Print newspapers and magazines will never get [to new online business models], he argues, until they burn the boats and shut down their print operations. Yes, there are still a lot of people and money in those boats—billions of dollars in revenue in some cases. “At risk is 80% of revenues and headcount,” Andreessen acknowledges, “but shift happens.”

Andreessen has a point that it makes senses to abandon failing models in the long term, but setting fire to profitable print operations is the wrong strategy at the moment. After years of fretting over declining circulation and trying desperately to rejuvenate a dying business, newspaper publishers are finally adopting an intelligent strategy. They’re milking all they can from their profitable business while trying to manage it down to a level that new models can take over. It won’t be easy.

The strategy that most publishers have recently adopted has three parts:

  • Raise subscription rates in order to milk as much revenue as possible out of an aging but loyal reader base;
  • Manage costs downward in a manner that preserves profitability without alienating traditional readers;
  • Invest in growth markets that can preserve the brand and generate new profits.

The New York Times reported last year that its second-quarter subscription revenues nearly matched its advertising revenue. Aggressive price increases, combined with a substantial reduction in discounted circulation, are turning paying subscribers into a profit engine. Other publishers are adopting this approach, which is why the seemingly catastrophic declines in circulation of the last couple of years aren’t as devastating as they seem. Many businesses have legacy customers that generate a small but profitable business. Successful long-term franchises, however, also have the skills to move on.

A Successful Online Model

New media news entities have demonstrated that they can earn a profit with about 20% of the revenues of print organizations. That’s because their operating expenses are about 90% lower. These organizations are profitable, but a lot smaller than print publishers.

In their most recent round of earnings reports, most publishers stated that they are now deriving between 12% and 16% of their revenue from online advertising. Most of them have also not done nearly as much as they can to monetize other sources such as events, transaction fees and value-added and classified advertising. Once publishers reach the threshold of 20% online revenue, they can conceivably shutter their print operations while sustaining the business and the brand. They’re trying to get to that threshold gracefully, though. Lots of money can still be made in print if publishers can manage that asset down steadily while reducing costs in lockstep.

That’s a tricky process. If publishers cut costs too deeply, they risk losing loyal print subscribers and circulation revenue could enter a free-fall. They also don’t have the luxury of much time to complete the transition.

Even harder is the third bullet point. The people who run newspapers are skilled at operations and asset management, not visionary investments in emerging markets. In the TechCrunch interview, Andreessen correctly points out that technology companies are adept at dealing with constant disruption to their markets, a situation that faces Microsoft right now. Successful technology companies manage this challenge through a kind of creative destruction process. Successful executives are experts at learning to identify new opportunities and quickly discarding old product lines without looking back.

However, technology companies don’t have the luxury of a loyal legacy base that newspaper publishers have. The audience of committed daily readers may still buy the newspaper industry another 10 years of life in print, although that business will eventually become unsustainable. It isn’t crazy for publishers to want to milk the cash cow for a few more years. The hard part is finding new opportunities and having the stomach to invest in them in the face of inevitable shareholder demands for greater profits.

Burning the boats isn’t a wise strategy at the moment. But it’s a good idea to start collecting firewood.


Newspaper executives and their largest advertisers will gather next month in Orlando to discuss the transition to a digital media world. Advertisers in attendance include Staples Inc., Walgreens, Best Buy,  Home Depot, RadioShack, Target and many other print media veterans.

It’s good to see the industry tackling its challenges head on, but we have to wonder if this is the right crowd to do it. Nearly every person in the room will have a career and a business built on a crumbling advertising model. It seems unlikely that much innovation will flourish in that atmosphere. And if you believe what people like Mark Potts and Steve Outing are saying, then the future of these companies is about diversifying revenue and cultivating local advertisers, not finding new ways to squeeze more blood from the display advertising stone.. Meanwhile, the agenda is packed with speakers from the newspaper industry. We trust Huffington Post wasn’t invited.


Meanwhile, Outsell has a new report predicting that US companies will spend more on digital marketing than print for the first time ever this year. Of the $368 billion that Outsell expects US advertisers to spend this year, roughly $120 billion will be spent online and $111 in print. Of the total online spending, 53% will be on company websites. Outsell expects print newspaper ad spending to drop 8.2% to $27 billion. The report costs $1,295. More here.

And Finally…

The folks who brought you the wonderful Fail Blog have aggregated some of their best media miscues into Probably Bad News, a site whose tagline is “News Fails, because journalism isn’t dying fast enough.”You can upload your own favorite typos, double entendres and acts of sheer stupidity for others to vote upon. Many of the examples are computers gone haywire, which lack the sheer hilarity of printed mistakes, in our view. But there’s some good stuff there, anyway.


Dan Bloom has been pushing the idea of renaming newspapers “snailpapers.” He’s put the cause to music. It’s six-and-a-half-minutes of countrified banjo-picking. Watch it if you can.

By paulgillin | August 5, 2009 - 11:42 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Sprengelmeyer“If you look very closely, the small-town newspaper’s business model does and always has resembled a miniature version of the direction the big-city papers will eventually reach.”

That’s one of several gems in this splendidly written essay by ME Sprengelmeyer (right), a former Washington correspondent for the Rocky Mountain News and now the proud publisher and editor of the Guadalupe County Communicator, “the sixth-smallest weekly in the 36th most populous state.”

Writing on the blog of John Temple, former editor and publisher of the Rocky, Sprengelmeyer explains how his 18-month track across the US chasing the presidential candidates had the secondary objective of helping him find a new home in small-town journalism.

What he found was a century-old model that looks much like the future of big market dailies. ” They have tiny staffs – only what the day-to-day cash flow can sustain. They aren’t afraid of reader-generated content. They outsource many functions, such as printing and distribution…they keep their communities addicted to the print product because they…do not give away a whole lot of material for free.”

Most don’t make much money — in fact, some lose money — but that’s usually because they aren’t particularly well run. Big media organizations don’t bother with small markets and even if they cared, the cost of opening bureaus in thousands of small towns would cripple them.

Sprengelmeyerwrites about the “caravan of great journalists” who showed up to help him relaunch his paper. They spent the weekend strategizing, mapping the local area and redesigning the product. Then they left. “I cried some more,” Sprengelmeyer writes, “because then I was alone again, facing my first week on the job with the scariest boss in the world: myself.”

The account is an inspiring story of personal discovery and reinvention. It may make you cry, too.

The Times Regrets All the Errors

The New York Times published a jaw-dropping correction from its July 17 “appraisal” of Walter Cronkite’s career. Among the eight errors in the story where Wikipediable factoids such as the date of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Ombudsman Clark Hoyt files an explanation with this blunt assessment: “A television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work…editors who should have been vigilant were not.” The critic, Alessandra Stanley, is apparently much admired for her intellectual coverage of television, but is so careless with facts that in 2005, “she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts.” Those were the days…

According to Columbia Journalism Review, Stanley’s latest miscues have vaulted her into the top five most corrected journalists on the Times staff again and guaranteed her more special attention. Hoyt’s play-by-play is a fascinating glimpse into the operations of a journalistic institution and the mishaps that can bedevil even the most rigorous quality process.

It’s also a commentary upon editors’ willingness to overlook screw-ups because of perceived countervailing virtues. Be sure to read Mark Potts’ remarks upon the Times incident, in which he relates a few war stories of careless reporters he’s known. “I edited a reporter who had little or no concept of how to use commas; another who would submit long stories with gaps labeled ‘insert transitions here;’ and a third who infamously spelled a type of citrus fruit as ‘greatfruit,’” he writes. His account will make you alternately laugh and groan.

Daylife Draws Big-Media Attention

The New York Observer profiles Daylife, a startup that is partnering with media companies — and increasingly with commercial clients — to build cells of thematic content. With a small staff of 26, the New York City-based venture has already signed up the Washington Post, NPR and USA Today as clients. It takes a different approach to reporting the news. Editors are skilled not only at identifying important stories but also assembling webpages on the fly that combine all sorts of widgetized information.

The big difference between the Daylife approach and that of conventional media, explains founder Upendra Shardanand, is that Daylife assumes that news is a living and evolving organism, not a shrink-wrapped package. Investors include the odd pairing of The New York Times and Craig Newmark, whose Craigslist is considered the great Satan by many in the newspaper industry. Headlined “The Aggregator That Newspapers Like,” the story merits at least a quick read from publishers seeking reinvention, because these guys are doing something right.

Miscellany

Newspaper websites attracted more than 70 million visitors in June, who collectively spent 2.7 billion minutes browsing 3.5 billion pages, according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).  The figures are part of a new measurement methodology developed by Nielsen that measures a larger sample size and reports more granular information, according to an NAA press release.

The trade group has been on a campaign recently to stress the value of newspaper advertising.  It released a report last month showing that six in 10 US adults use newspapers to help make purchase decisions and that newspaper ads are more valuable than ads in any other medium.


The NAA’s timing may not be so great. Online ad spending declined 5% in the second quarter and the situation isn’t expected to improve much until the middle of next year, according to two reports released today. In the US, the rate of decline was 7%, or slightly above the global average. Classified ads fell 17% and display ads were down 12%. A J.P. Morgan report issued this morning said that search advertising, which has been one of the few bright spots in the market over the last year, dropped 2% in the second quarter, mainly due to poor results at Yahoo and AOL. Results were also dragged down by a 31% decline in ad sales at Monster.com.


Google has quietly quadrupled the number of articles in its News Archive Search service. The oldest newspaper digitized to date is this June 2, 1753 edition of the Halifax Gazette. Google hopes to make money by selling targeted advertising against the archives, a market that has traditionally been the source of some revenue for publishers themselves.

halifax


Two groups of former Los Angeles Times journalists have organized themselves into contract editorial groups selling journalism and photography. They’re called the Journalism Shop and Pro Photography Network.


The Boston Globe is said to be considering an option to become a nonprofit organization as a way to bail itself out of its current financial woes. Columnist Howie Carr of the rival Herald pens this vicious satire of the idea, calling his crosstown rivals “the bowtied bumkissers.” If you’re a disciple of editorial savagery, there is no more skilled practitioner than Carr.


The Fresno Bee will begin charging 29 cents a week for its TV supplement.


If you like the Amazon Kindle, you’re going to want to keep an eye on a new product from Britain’s Plastic Logic, which is due to launch early next year. The razor-thin reader will reportedly sell for around $300 and will have a flexible screen that makes it easy to carry. It’s also larger than the Kindle, which should warm the hearts of newspaper executives who don’t want to give up their broadsheet format. Here’s a video:

By paulgillin | June 4, 2008 - 9:52 am - Posted in Fake News

Edward Padgett & Paul GillinNewspapers have been called the “daily miracle.” The accomplishment of delivering a product of such remarkable breadth and complexity to hundreds of thousands of doorsteps by 6:00 a.m. every day is a wonder of manufacturing and logistical efficiency. Visiting the press room of the Los Angeles Times yesterday, I was reminded again of remarkable an achievement that is.

I never would have met Edward Padgett (left) if it weren’t for this blog. Ed publishes Los Angeles Times Pressmens 20 Year Club. It’s a blog about newspapers, the LA Times, Ed’s longtime buddies in the press room and anything else Edward Padgett wants to write about. Ed’s blog sends more traffic to Newspaper Death Watch than any other site on the Internet, including Google. Ed’s been online for more than 20 years, going back to Prodigy days. He’s very online-savvy.

Press room

Ed and I have been exchanging links for months, so my trip to LA was an opportunity to get together. For nearly two hours, he showed me around the massive Olympic Blvd. facility of the LA Times. It was a quiet day and the presses were idle. The guys on the early shift were mainly cleaning up, repairing equipment (the Times stopped doing preventive maintenance four years ago) and getting ready for the late-week insanity leading up to the Sunday edition.

Paper rolls awaiting production

The pressroom is a big place. The presses themselves stand about 20 feet high and stretch for a tenth of a mile. A giant storehouse on the first floor houses hundreds of 2,400-lb. rolls of newsprint, many of which arrive by rail cars that roll right into the warehouse. The newsprint rolls are fed by robotic forklifts to presses as they’re needed. The storeroom shown below doesn’t even hold enough paper for a single day’s edition.


Nearly everyone working the morning shift has known each other for a long time. Ed’s been at the Times for 36 years, but he’s not the most senior guy. John Miner (right) has been there for 37 years. He teaches new hires how to work the presses.Noel Trevino (below) is a machinist who can fix anything. This particular morning he was repairing a giant metal roller using a lathe the size of a small truck. You can’t keep a lot of spare parts around when some of them weigh a ton or more, so the pressroom has a million-dollar machine shop where wizards can craft parts out of raw metal, if necessary. Noel Trevino

There’s a camaraderie to this crew that only comes from experience. These guys can practically finish each other’s sentences. In this age of outsourcing, we sometimes forget the value of having a workforce that instinctively knows what each other will do in any situation.

The pressmen’s commitment is to the newspaper and to each other. They’ve seen publishers and guys in suits come and go. The guys on the press always outlast the latest manager or the latest management fad. They’ll work their butts off to get the paper out, but they could mostly care less what some executive tells them to do. They’re as friendly with some of the reporters and editors as they are with each other. Ultimately, everyone who works for a newspaper knows that he or she is part of a large and intricate assembly line. The guys in the press room happen to be near the end.

Ed’s blog has an impact. Sam Zell checks it out regularly and even singled out Ed for recognition on a recent visit to the Times. Publisher David Hiller is also a reader. Los Angeles Times Pressmens 20 Year Club is a bit of a thorn in Hiller’s side because Padgett sometimes publishes internal memos or breaks news before it’s meant to be broken. The Times even had the lawyers look into shutting Padgett down at one point, but decided there was nothing they could do. So they enjoy a friendly but somewhat awkward truce. Ed won’t do anything to hurt the paper he loves, but he won’t pull his punches when he sees something wrong. He loves to spotlight LA Times critics like Jim Reich, whose scathing commentaries are a must-read. Hiller has evidently learned to live with it, because he and Ed are on a first-name basis.

Ed gave me a book of Times sports pages and a book of dessert recipes written by a Times staffer as a parting gift. I’m sure we’ll meet again. He is a class act, and so are the other 20-year guys I met, whose pressroom wizardry helps pull off that daily miracle.

More photos below.

Padgett on press

Padgett on press

Newsprint in storage

Newsprint in storage

Empty paper rolls

Spent rolls awaiting recycling

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By paulgillin | May 7, 2014 - 3:25 pm - Posted in Fake News

Are page views your primary measure of success for your website or a story thereupon? Well cut it out. Page views are about as relevant an indicator of content value as the height of the starting center is a predictor of the success of a basketball team.

What should journalists measure?The issue of what online publishers should measure was the topic of a panel at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia last week. Experts debated whether page views have any value at all. We think they don’t. In fact, we think they have negative value.

“Provocative headlines and images encourage people to click but it does not mean they enjoy the content…and the spreading of articles over multiple pages has also allowed many sites to boost their metrics,” said Tony Haile, chief executive of analytics firm Chartbeat, quoted in a piece on Journalism.co.uk.

People count page views because it’s easy, but the metric is almost meaningless. It’s easy to drive valueless page views to a website by posting celebrity photos and top 10 lists. Lots of people will visit, few will stay and almost none will return. What’s worse, panelists said, is that obsession with page views creates valueless traffic that drives down the value of inventory and, with it, advertising rates. In a world of infinite inventory, “the value of advertising space will always decline,” Haile said.

And the Alternative Is…?

So what’s better? No one agrees. Some people say social shares are a superior engagement metric, but research has shown that people share stuff without bothering to read it. Time spent on site is another popular alternative, but no analytics tool can distinguish between an engaged reader and a browser tab left open for two hours.

Steffen Konrath, chief executive of Liquid Newsroom, said the Holy Grail is relevance, which is determined by conducting research among focus groups and then giving people what they ask for. The problem with that is that what people ask for isn’t always what they should read. One of the principal values of traditional newspapers is that they give readers stuff they don’t ask for but need to know anyway. This service has been almost vaporized by the Internet echo chamber.

We once worked at an Internet publishing startup that was laser-focused on page views. From an advertising perspective this was understandable. Inventory was at a premium and the more traffic we could generate the more revenue came in. From an editorial perspective, however, the strategy was a disaster. Editors quickly learned that they could drive traffic by posting trivia contests and virtual scavenger hunts. Traffic grew quickly but repeat visits plummeted. The people who visited weren’t the technology professionals we coveted but rather gamers with time on their hands.

The Perugia panel discussion covered concluded that there is no one ideal metric, and they were right. As journalists, we think audience engagement is what matters, and that can be measured through a combination of factors like shares, repeat visits, comments, time spent on site and pages per visit. For advertisers, total eyeballs may matter more. What’s important is to measure the factors that everyone can agree indicate that the right audience is coming and that they’re staying for the right reasons.

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By paulgillin | September 30, 2010 - 10:37 pm - Posted in Fake News

Cow MilkingSo what are they thinking at The New York Times Co.? Having failed to sell its New England properties last year at an asking price that was reportedly 97% below what the Times Co paid for the Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette in 1993, the company has now settled on splitting the Globe into two parts: one paid and the other free.

According to an account in Editor & Publisher:

Whereas Boston.com will continue to offer breaking news, sports, and weather from various sources, along with classified advertising, social networking, and information about travel, restaurants and entertainment, BostonGlobe.com will be designed to mirror the experience of reading the paper’s print edition. It will contain all the reports from the day’s paper as well as exclusive reports, in-depth news, analysis, commentary, photos and graphics, plus video and interactive features.

What does this mean? Will Boston.com become a My Yahoo-like text portal with wire feeds and little else? Will all of the material produced by the paper’s staff of reporters and photographers migrate to the paid edition but not be available to non-paying subscribers? How will those staffers feel about reaching a smaller audience? Will paid subscribers get anything more than an online version of the print edition? If so, why wouldn’t they just choose to receive the print edition in the first place and skip the whole online hoohah?

The answers to these questions will no doubt emerge in the nine months or so that the Globe has to consider its transition. Staffers will be watching the experience of their corporate parent as it imposes a pay wall at nytimes.com in January. BTW, we haven’t heard a whole lot about the plans for that experiment in recent months. We assume it’s still on.

We are on record as believing that paywalls will not work to salvage or grow the newspaper industry, but we also believe that the New York Times Co.’s strategy in this case is sound. Basically, management has recognized that trying to rejuvenate the print operation is futile, so it’s better to manage it into the ground as profitably as possible. This means raising subscription rates, erecting pay walls, holding the line on advertising prices for existing customers and generally trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the print operation that it can. It’s called milking the cash cow, and it’s a tried-and-true business strategy.

It is also a strategy of capitulation. The Boston Globe will never again see growth in its print edition,  so the best it can do is to wring profits out of the dwindling number of subscribers it has. Publishers are learning that over in London right now, where online readership of the Times fell 7.6% between July and August. Page views dipped 22% and time spent on site fell 16%. Some of this was no doubt due to the summer holiday, but the evidence is becoming abundant that pay walls significantly reduce traffic. The question is whether the incremental revenue offsets the corresponding declines in readership. No one has an answer yet, but it appears that newspaper publishers are increasingly willing to admit that print has no future and trying to get what they can out of a dying franchise. Believe it or not, than is healthy.

In the case of the Globe, The Times Co. will hopefully plow profits from paid subscriptions back into new properties that have the potential for growth, but it may choose to do something else instead. In the meantime, the message from the Globe’s move is that print is dead, resuscitation efforts are futile and those who still value print are going to pay for the privilege of receiving it. Not a bad strategy at all. At least it’s realistic.

Miscellany

Staffers at the Globe and elsewhere might want to look at the experience in Pittsburgh, where the Post-Gazette‘s PG+ is reportedly profitable and figuring out a sustainable business. The secret sauce in the publishing realm is sports, which motivates fans in the Steel City to fork over dollars in exchange for the latest information about local stars. However, a more important development may be the Web property’s shift into new areas of revenue such as sponsored events. “Those events have included a Post-Gazette “summer camp” featuring classes on fly fishing and cooking, as well as higher-brow discussions of the midterm elections,” writes Poynter’s Bill Mitchell. Hmmm… diversifying revenue. Where have we heard that before?


Did we really say that print is dead? Well The Wall Street Journal’s print advertising revenue jumped 21% in the just-completed quarter compared to the year-ago period, according to a memo from Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton. Online revenue was up, too. Those are impressive numbers, but one month does not a trend make.


Did we really say that print is dead? The Richmond (Mo.) News will reduce its print frequency from daily to twice weekly. Beginning Oct. 18, the 96-year-old News will be published on Monday and Thursday afternoons.


Slate’s Jack Shafer writes entertainingly about the history of the op-ed page, a 40-year-old invention often credited to The New York Times. Not surprisingly, the idea of portraying opposing viewpoints directly across from a newspaper’s editorial page has many fathers, given that it “has undoubtedly been one of the great newspaper innovations of the century,” in the words of John B. Oakes, a Times editorial board member who proposed the concept in the late 1950s. Oakes says the idea was his, but others who were at the Times dispute that, and other papers used similar vehicles as early as the 1920s. The Times‘ move to action was actually spurred by the death of the New York Herald Tribune in 1966, which removed a major conservative voice from the market. Editors realized there was an opportunity in dissent, and began openly soliciting prominent foes to write for their pages. This turned out to be a good business decision, since public figures write for cheap and the Times was able to realize an immediate advertising windfall. The concept was quickly picked up by other newspapers and  became a staple. It’s hard to believe that something we accept so easily today was the subject of so much controversy a few decades ago.


They’re on a bit of a roll over at Verve Wireless, which just raised $7 million for development and expansion of its local ad network and publisher platform. Among the investors are The Associated Press. Verve creates apps to deliver news to mobile devices. In addition to contracts with McClatchy, Belo Interactive and The AP. the company was selected earlier this year by the Audit Bureau of Circulations to measure the audience on mobile applications, mobile browsers and tablets. Verve Wireless claims that 750 publishers worldwide are using its apps.

And Finally…

Publishers could do worse than to rely upon the genius of their reporters. In Chicago, Sun-Times reporter Kara Spak won a “Jeopardy” quiz show to the tune of $24,001. In response to a question about an 1863 poem that mentions “the eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five,” Spak correctly identified the source as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” We don’t believe her employer requires her to contribute her winnings to the company pension fund. Had she worked for Tribune Co., we’re not so sure that would have applied.

By paulgillin | June 11, 2013 - 10:44 am - Posted in Fake News

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) released an upbeat report on the state of newspapers worldwide, pointing to growing readership levels in emerging economies but cautioning that engagement levels are still low.

The report includes data from 70 countries that account for more than 90% of the industry’s value. It shows:

  • More than half the world’s adult population reads a daily newspaper, with 2.5 billion reading in print and more than 600 million consuming in digital form.
  • The newspaper industry generates more than US$200 billion of revenue worldwide each year. However, that figure is down 2% from last year and 22% since 2008. The numbers are dragged down by plummeting ad sales in the U.S., which has seen print advertising revenues fall 42% since 2008. The good news is that ad revenues are up 9.1% in Latin America, 3.6% in Asia and 2.3% in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Newspaper circulation remains high, through stagnant, globally. Circulation declined only .9% worldwide in 2012 from a year earlier, primarily due to  rising circulations in Asia. Circulation is down 2.2% globally since 2008, with the steepest declines in Europe.
  • While newspapers are a vital information source, they aren’t engaging online audiences very effectively. Newspapers accounted for only 7% of visits, only 1.3% of time spent online and only .9% of total pages visited.
  • U.S. newspaper publishers now generate 27% of their revenues from non-traditional sources, such as digital advertising, services and ancillary products.

While the report can be seen as a glass-half-full scenario, we think it’s encouraging to see publishers diversifying their revenue sources. The industry’s historic dependence on print advertising in general – and classified advertising in particular – is at the root of its problems. The rapid decline of those revenue sources is prompting some publishers to get creative about finding new revenues. Those that succeed will be stronger for it.

 

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By paulgillin | February 11, 2013 - 8:05 am - Posted in Fake News

Top areas of ad spending declines, 2013

Traditional media took it on the chin in marketing plans researched by Aquent and the American Marketing Association (AMA). One in three marketers plans to decrease spending on newspaper advertising, making newspapers the big loser in the study. They were joined in the cellar by consumer magazines, radio, trade magazines and television, all of which were cited by more than 20% of respondents as targets of budget cuts. The winners? Mobile media, social media with growing significance of youtube views and marketing automation. More than three in four marketers plan to increase spending in those areas.


Perhaps marketers are simply reflecting the interests of the audiences they want to reach. Alan Mutter gathers some statistics that point to ominous demographic trends:

  • Only 6% of people in their 20s and 16% of 40-year-olds regularly read newspapers, compared to 48% of people over 65.
  • Only 29% of the U.S. population regularly read a newspaper in 2012, down from 56% in 1991.
  • Three-quarters of the audience at the typical newspaper is 45 years of age or older. In comparison, over-45s comprise only 40% of the population.
  • Print advertising still generates between 80% and 90% of revenues at the typical major metro daily.

Mutter asserts that newspaper publishers will never pull out of their tailspin unless they can create products that appeal to the new generation of digital natives who can’t be bothered to drag around paper, CDs or books. For them, the phone and the tablet are their windows on the world, and that will change industries ranging from news to travel to banking.


Plans to increase or decrease Facebook time in 2013There are always ways to make statistics say what you want them to say, of course. More people read a newspaper than visited a social network in the past month, according to KPMG International. Traditional electronic channels fared even better: 88% of respondents to the survey said they’d watched TV in the previous month and 74% said they’d listened to the radio. That compares to just 57% who had tweeted or Facebooked. The survey measured habits of more than 9,000 people in nine countries. It did not ask how much time respondents spent with each media.

There’s some evidence that the novelty of Facebook is wearing off. A new Pew Research study finds that 28% of Facebook users say the site has become less important to them, and a third have cut back on the amount of time they spend on Facebook. Asked about their plans for allocating time to Facebook in the coming year, 38% of 18-to-29-year-olds said they’ll cut back, compared to only 1% who plan to spend more time.


And speaking of Pew, another recent study finds strong support for a bastion of the print world: libraries. More than half of Americans 16 or older visited a library during the past year, and of those who did, 26% plan to increase library usage during the next year while 22% plan to cut back. Asked if libraries should clear out some of their book stacks to make way for more technical resources, 36% said definitely not, compared to 20% who supported such a change. It would appear that while print may be on the decline, the role of the library as a community gathering place is still secure for now.

Miscellany

Writing in Scientific American blogs, Frank Swain tells of  a new initiative by the Royal Statistical Society’s BenchPress project to teach young journalists how to interpret statistics. The program sends volunteer working scientists into schools and newsrooms across Britain to help ensure that “journalists produce science news stories that are as robust and accurate as possible.” This seems like a great idea to us. Any yahoo with a SurveyMonkey account and a mailing list can field a survey these days, and publishing tools make the results look like they came from Gallup. Scientists complain of having to squeeze the conclusions of complex research studies into tweetable sound bites in order to get attention – and more funding. There’s so much bad research out there, and statistics isn’t a core part of the curriculum at many journalism schools. Maybe it should be.


The Washington Post has come up with a “Truth Teller” app that compares statements made by public officials and corporate spokespeople to databases of facts in near real time. The project, which was funded with a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund, is said to be able to extract audio, convert it to text and then conduct searches based upon the content. We’re somewhat skeptical, given that our Google Voice app still converts all our voice-mail messages to Martian, but maybe the Post found better technology.

The video below tells more, and stresses that this is a prototype. The technology is ultimately intended to be used behind the scenes to help reporters more quickly scope out falsehoods. We see huge potential for politics and mischief with this technology. Imagine a CNN vs. Fox “Leaderboard of Lies” or a plug-in that tweets falsehoods in real time. That we would follow.

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By paulgillin | March 23, 2012 - 10:07 am - Posted in Fake News

Five years ago today I posted a 29-word squib on the question of whether bloggers are journalists. With that inauspicious beginning, Newspaper Death Watch was launched. Nearly 600 posts and about a half million words later, it’s still here, though its charter has changed over that time. In many ways this blog is a microcosm of the forces that have all but swept away the once-mighty US newspaper industry and replaced it with the seeds of something that I believe will ultimately be much richer and and more valuable.

This blog was launched out of our frustration at my failure to find a publisher for an op-ed piece I wrote in 2006 forecasting the collapse of daily newspapers. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were polite in their rejections. The Boston Globe‘s Joan Vennochi, displaying the arrogance that was typical of that newspaper in those days, didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and faxes. Op-ed editors’ lack of interest in my point of view was understandable; 2006 was the best revenue year the newspaper industry ever had and forecasts of catastrophe seemed ridiculous. I knew from many years following the technology industry, however, that businesses often enjoy their best years just before their collapse. I self-published a longer version of that essay and started this site to document the death spiral that I knew was about to begin.

Transformational Time

The five years since then have been pivotal years in the history of media. The turning point came in 2009 when two venerable dailies – the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer – shut down with little notice, and several big papers, including my beloved Globe, were threatened with the same fate. More background here. The industry came out of that experience with a sense of urgency about its own survival and made changes that will prolong its decline but not change its fate. As Pew recently reported, most publishers are moving toward a digital future slowly and reluctantly. This still doesn’t look good.

The death watch began to bore me after 2009, and I’ve spent the last two years focusing more on the experiments that are sprouting up to preserve and evolve the craft of journalism. The good news is that there is a lot of innovation out there. I’m impressed by Pro Publica, Politico, Minn Post, Voice of San Diego, AllVoices, Global Post, California Watch and Sacramento Press, to name just a few. These startups all proceed from the assumption that good journalism can be practiced without the overhead of presses, paper, delivery trucks and newsstands. In fact, when you remove the expense of printing and delivering a newspaper, the actual cost of the journalism is pretty low. Then you can do some innovative things on the business side to pay the bills and maybe even make a profit in the long run. I applaud their work and the work of many others like them.

Power of One

It’s been amazing to see how much attention one person can attract with a little perseverance and the right tools. I’ve been interviewed on Al-Jazeera and CNN, featured on Australia’s leading network news program and spotlighted in a documentary. Spain’s largest daily newspaper featured me in a center spread. I’ve been cited in the Journal, USA Today, The Economist, The New Yorker and many other well-known publications. You can find a complete list of media mentions here. I get e-mail inquiries from media outlets every couple of weeks and always help out as best I can.

More rewarding have been the opportunities I’ve had to work with journalists and students through fine organizations like Poynter Institute, USC Annenberg, the American Press Institute, Boston University, Emerson College, SUNY Stony Brook and Emmanuel College. My point of view hasn’t always been popular with the editors and teachers I’ve met, but I’ve found most of them to be open-minded. I try to emphasize what I’ve said many times: The problem with newspapers isn’t the quality of their journalism but the weakness of their business model. It’s ironic that readership of newspaper content in print and online is at an all-time high while the revenues of the US industry are at a 60-year low. We should be focused not on preserving newspapers but on preserving journalism.

Power of Free

I earlier called Newspaper Death Watch a microcosm of the changing media industry and here’s what I meant: This blog has annual expenses of $57 for website hosting. It is a labor of love and an outlet for passion.It has long been a top Google result for queries about the decline of newspapers, and a couple of years ago Google decided to make it one of the top search results for “newspaper industry.”

As a result, the site gets between 400 and 600 visitors on an average day and has more than 1,200 RSS subscribers. One day in February, 2009 it was visited more than 3,000 times. I get a steady stream of e-mails from students asking about journalism careers or seeking help with term papers. Fifteen years ago that kind of visibility would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to create and thousands annually to sustain. International reach was almost unthinkable. Today it’s basically free.

This is just one small example of many thousands of blogs that are making a difference because the bloggers have something to say.  The ability of one person to create conversation today is stunning. Last month a man in North Carolina pumped eight rounds from a .45 into his daughter’s laptop to protest her selfish behavior. He posted the video below on YouTube and within three days started a global conversation about parenting, generational conflict and the impact of social media on young people. These kinds of events are commonplace today. They represent a fundamental shift in power and influence from the media to the individual.

It used to be said that power resided in the hands of those who bought ink by the barrel. Today it resides in the hands of those who have something to say and the passion to find a way to say it. What could be wrong with that?

–Paul Gillin

Framingham, MA