The Death of Newspapers. Or Not.

Note that this is a multiple page post. If you are reading in some feed readers, you may not get the entirety of the article unless you come to the site itself.

The question posed over at Friendfeed asks, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

The answer, quite simply, is no they are not.

I have talked about the newspaper industry quite a lot and part directions with many others in the new media space. In a world of absolute positions staked by nearly everyone, that paint issues in stark contrasts of black and white with no grey in between, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that if blogs are successful over newspapers in some area, then they must be killing the newspaper across the board.

In my old age of nearly 33, I’ve learned something in this life. That absolutes are generally far from absolute. The passion that is put forward by belief in something is enough to cause issue-oriented myopia, wherein it is impossible to consider other possible alternatives.

Thus is the case when the question is posed, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

Let me pose both sides of the argument.

Advocacy for Professional Consultants

A funny thing happened on the way to an SEO Mecca. The New York Times decided to fold all of the content of the International Herald Tribune into NYTimes.com as an SEO play. Gawker has the full backstory.

If you don’t feel like reading, the New York Times has been asking Google for enhanced SERPs (Search Engine Result Placements) for some time. As Google has refused special treatment, the Times decided to take the step of combining it’s moderately-strong iht.com property into the main NYTimes.com. On paper, this makes sense if they were playing to combine the strengths of both properties to enhance the value of the content in the search engines.

Many people do this, even on small scales. Through special, yet simple, configurations, systems admins can redirect one page to another and pass a code that instructs search engines to find the old content at the new location permanently or temporarily, depending on the use case and purpose. It’s a bit tricky, but also not rocket science. It happens all the time, and in fact, also happens on this site where I’ve deprecated old content pages in favor of new ones.

These are basic steps that are taken, and required, to retain the search engine value of a site. Unfortunately, as the Gawker story points out, the Times botched the process and is redirecting all of the IHT content to a single landing page, nullifying the value of all their content. (Though the argument could be made that if Times engineers jumped on the mistake quick enough, they could salvage the damage before Google updated all the results.

Assuming, however, that that is not the case, the decision to handle this in-house instead of contracting a professional SEO firm or consultant, highlights another bad business practice that is far too common – especially when a company is cash strapped, as the Times is.

Hiring an outside firm or individual to handle this stuff meticulously would have easily cost the Times a number in the five figure range. Easily. Maybe six figures, depending on the firm and the scope and complexity of the problem. Undoubtedly, this is a lot of money and one of the reasons that people try to do jobs on their own.

However, the flip side of this particular problem, understanding of course that I don’t have all the details, is that the advertising revenue being lost as a result of the search traffic that will not come to the site for a long time from Google, is unquestionably going to exceed the money they would have lost to hire a firm or reputed SEO professional.

In the advertising world, though in my opinion it is a flawed concept long-term, the most lucrative advertising for a content property like the New York Times, is CPM. CPM, is the amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay for every thousand impression, or page view.

According to Compete.com (which is tragically wrong most of the time), the International Herald Tribune website gets approximately 4.6M page views monthly (2M unique visitors * 2.3 average pages per visit). At an extremely conservative rate of $20 CPM, the Times would lose $90,000 a month in advertising revenue. For $50,000, they could have contracted a firm to handle the SEO implications of the IHT switch.

I admit that I’m pulling numbers out of my ass here. Without a doubt, my numbers are way off any semblance of reality. The dollar figures per CPM are higher. The traffic is higher. But, my point is made.

Companies looking to play in the web space, when it’s not their primary business, should utilize contractors as much as possible. The downside of using contractors is the lack of “buy in” to the company mission, however consultants are usually more efficient and professional about getting a job done right the first time (they have other clients) than many in-house teams can do. In a down economy, as well, it’s critically important that companies are able to stay focused on their core missions.

Bonus: Despite the fact that I am making up numbers, the principle behind consultancy remains. But to lighten things up, I’ll toss the naysayers a bone.

Dilbert.com

New York Times Makes Massive Leap in Bringing Congressional Data to the Web

For all the talk in DC about transparency in government, that seemed (at least in my sense) to really come to the forefront of everyone’s attention with the House Rules on social media use issue last July, then escalated with the Senate, the bailouts and finally the election of one of the most social media savvy presidents ever, the status quo has been largely wishing for transparency and talking about it.

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The New York Times decided to take it a step farther today by actually providing data in the form of the Congress API. This data is pulled from the House and Senate websites but I have to guess also includes data that is mined from the Congressional Record, the daily public account of all official business that is still, ironically, published in print form en masse. Up until now, the Congressional Record has been available upon request and is hard to actually get real signal from amidst the noise of process and procedure.

With the NY Times Congress API, it is now possible for developers to build tools that mine the Record for roll call votes, members of each chamber, and information about members including chairmanships or committee memberships.

It will be interesting to see how this data is used and how it can be leveraged to keep the government honest. Developers can check out the technical details here.

Roadmap to Victory at Washington Post

Early last month, after the Tribune Company announced that it would enter bankruptcy protection, the conversation surrounding the demise of newspapers and the newspaper industry heated back up. Of course, we suggested that there should be an opportunity for new media to emerge in the newsrooms.

Today, the news comes from the New York Times that Phillip Bennett, the number two man at the Washington Post is stepping down joining the former WashingtonPost.com executive editor, Jim Brady, who also resigned recently.

thewashingtonpostThe Washington Post was one of the early newspapers who tinkered with social media tools in their online offering by utilizing a widget to display links to blogs that wrote about their stories. However, since then, they have not innovated all that much. Sure, they have blogs, but what major newspapers doesn’t? And really, does a blog matter if it isn’t compelling?

If I were on the inside of the Washington Post, I’d offer the following roadmap to a viable business entity.

  1. Combine resources of online and print media. No story should be exclusive to one or the other.
  2. Recognize that the business future does not lie in print and print subscriptions, but in online. Change business model to reflect a more traditional online content network. This is a wide swing from a subscription paper model.
  3. Develop content sharing partnerships with other newspapers. Washington Post has already done this with the Baltimore Sun. Suggest the The Times of London, Sydney Morning Herald or the San Francisco Chronicle to round out other-coastly or international perspective. Not sure how this would be mutually beneficial, but each publication will have its own interests that would need to be examined.
  4. Replace the Op-Ed section with blogs but use syndicated content from external blogs. Eliminate home grown blogs altogether.
  5. Develop online video channel on YouTube and bring into the online WaPo offering.
  6. In a related sense, develop a rich media network of content including podcasts – maybe primarily podcasts, due to the lack of exclusive attention required.
  7. Hire internally, or bring someone in from outside, to help the online business adapt to the new and changing landscape involving the internet and social media. The Toronto Globe & Mail did this with Mat Ingram.

I’d like to throw out one self-serving offer, since I know that there are increasingly a number of newspapers who are watching, reading or otherwise paying attention to our content here – I’m happy to discuss opportunities where I can step in and help. Sometimes that outside set of eyes is what is needed. Drop me a line at aaron@technosailor.com or call me at (410) 608-6620.

The Roadmap For Building a 21st Century Newspaper

Yesterday, I weighed in on the Tribune Company bankruptcy filing, noting that where voids might be created by the disappearance of established newspaper brands, there was opportunity for those nimble enough and digitally savvy enough to adjust. In my mind, as I wrote that, I was thinking primarily of alternate newspapers, but had a dream somewhere in the recesses of my head that there would, or could be an answer from the blog world. That there were blogs with enough presence and notoriety that could fill the void left by a major daily. Of course, power players exist but are generally single vertical sites (i.e. Engadget operates in the tech gadgets space) that don’t have the wide-ranging appeal that a daily newspaper does.

However, since I wrote that piece, I’ve carried on a number of private conversations with folks inside the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The questions seem to be, “Aaron, what do you think we can do better?”

Interesting question.

2125669268_6aa230b967_oOrlando Sentinel Newsroom. Photo by wcouch

I think the New York Times, as mentioned yesterday, has road mapped a lot of where the newspaper business needs to be in the digital age. All of their content is robustly tagged in a machine-readable way. It’s possible to find all content from Author D between the months of June and October in even-numbered years having to do with the auto industry.

The fine level of meta-data (data describing the stories) has been applied in such a way that the entirety of the Times is opened up to ambitious people who want to use their data and mash it up, re-apply it and, by nature, extend the New York Times readership.

The roadmap is there.

Interestingly, with a New York Times approach to metadata and the variety of Tribune Company properties (not just the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and LA Times, but also the Hartford Courant, WGN, Orlando Sentinel and more), it should be possible for users to create their own newspaper, and the newspaper to suggest content by behavior. Facebook is all over behavioral advertising and might be a willing partner.

If you provide a common sense approach to content discovery, across all Tribune properties, and allow readers to assemble and find content that is not only localized, but also relevant to their interests and concerns, with the understanding that the 21st century American is transient and not likely a loyalist to a metro area or a metro newspaper, then you have the basis for breaking the newspaper out of the early 1950s.

It is not simply good enough to provide a way to have external content (a la “Add an RSS feed”). That does not help the greater company to be coherent in the digital age. You must provide a way for Tribune Company content from all properties to be searched (Talk to me about Lijit – we can do a deal that works), discovered via meta-data analysis (NY Times approach) and user behavior feedback and offerings (a la Facebook).

There, my friends at the Tribune Company, is your road map to building a 21st Century newspaper business.

Trolls and Adversity

This evening I spent a large chunk of time surfing through a variety of websites, perusing my feed reader and Googling stories for Green week this week. My perusing led me down a rabbit trail that, honestly, I’ve wanted to talk about but events of recent days now compell me to talk about.

Internet fame is a touchy thing. Some people call internet fame “being an a-lister”. This kind of fame belongs to a subjective selection of blogs that meet certain unexplained criteria for prominence.

Everyone has their own criteria, it seems. Sometimes it’s traffic. Sometime it’s the community. Other times it’s the noticeability of people. I’ve often been called an a-lister and I’d imagine it would be for the latter reason.

On Friday, the big story was how Profy writers Cyndy Aleo-Carriera, Leslie Poston and Triston McIntyre walked out for reasons that all seem to lead back to Profy cutting pay and upping posting requirements.

Chaos ensued as Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins wrote a piece on Mashable “breaking the news.” It was neutral in the fashion that the Los Angeles Times is neutral about the war in Iraq. In other words, it was veiled neutrality. Though I doubt the story was malicious, it caused controversy and accusations of shoddy journalism to be bandied around by those involved.

In a conversation with one of the Profy writers over the weekend, I commented in my laissez-faire sort of way, “Welcome to the big time. Everyone gives a-listers a hard time until they feel the same heat.”

Though the writer acknowledged that it was fine and expected, it still was surprising.

Ironically, one of the Profy writers, Cyndy, had a guest post on Louis Gray’s blog titles Everyone Wants to be Internet Famous referencing this chilling, yet amazing New York Times story from Friday about trolls on the internet.

I encourage everyone to read the Times piece and not simply close your eyes because you don’t like what you see. Sun Tzu said Know Your Enemy. There’s important nuggets in the post such as Fortuny’s Green Hair Theory.

The takeaway from the story is if you don’t let trolls get to you, and you don’t care what they say, eventually they go away. I’ve recently had my own experience with trolls and this is exactly the approach I’ve taken. I also half expect to become a target of this trolling group for even shining a light on it.

At the end of the day, the take away is that those who enjoy prominence on the internet do it with a certain sacrifice that they knowingly make, Kathy Sierra, for as much as I love her, had a naiveté to her that invited the harassment and then reacted exactly as the trolling intended. Vanessa Fox took the opposite approach, however, and when she realized that people were looking for nude pictures of her, decided to own the day by registering vanessafoxnude.com as her personal domain.

I’d add to Steve Hodson’s points of becoming internet famous by saying, expect you will be targeted. Embrace being targeted. People will hate success and use your success to undermine you. You can’t do anything about them, but you can do something about yourself.

How do you cope with attacks and flames? Do you ignore and hope they go away? Do you fight fire with fire? In the case of the Profy writers, they were not A-list but suddenly they were noticed in a somewhat negative way. If you’re a Profy writer, how do you handle that?

Walled Gardens and Business Models in the 21st Century

Walled Gardens. Defined as media properties utilizing privileged access to provide information services or content to a user. The classic example of a walled garden was AOL, before they opened up most of their services. Users paid $23.95 or whatever the access rate was and got access to the “AOL Network.”

Then there was Facebook, the walled garden social network that restricted access to college and high school students, and businesses who had a Facebook presence. In all these cases, the confirming matter was a legitimate email address issued by the legitimate university, high school or business.

Web 2.0 drastically changed the way we do “internet”. No longer do people expect to pay for these services, they simply don’t. AOL recognized this fact a few years ago when then CEO Jonathan Miller suggested to the board that AOL should drop its subscription model and open up. AOL decentralized and became an open platform, including their very popular AIM service. AIM, a formerly closed protocol, now is run via Open AIM, a service which has allowed the interoperability between Google Talk, Jabber, and .Me, to name a few.

Facebook opened up big time. They decided to let the world see what was behind the curtain and were wildly successful. Though Facebook is still a walled garden in some respect to data, the walls keep falling with Facebook apps and Facebook Connect, announced last week.

As a final example of a traditionally closed walled garden throwing all caution to the wind and embracing the open internet environment, I give you the New York Times. NYT excessively applies metadata to all of its content, opening up the door for others such as Blogrunner, a Techmeme competitor which is actually owned by NYT. More notably to the traditional media norm, the registration requirement (which is almost always free at online newspapers) to view articles was removed giving full access to NYT content.

No registration. No hoops. Profit.

The challenge, as Seth Godin is probably about to find out, is when a business model is built around paid access (or even free but registration required). I’ve toyed with the idea of premium content for RSS subscribers only here. Though I won’t promise not to try it again, I can say it did not work. There was no increase in subscribers. There was even better content and resources, yes. But it does not work.

That said… one of the things that the open content movement seems to be bringing to light is single sign in. Facebook Connect, for instance, allows users to gain access to dedicated non-Facebook resources, free of charge and without forcing yet another account.

This doesn’t solve business model. I think the Pay per Play model is flawed inherently and though some people are successfully making money on older models, I don’t think the honeymoon can last.

That’s just me, though. Curious to hear what you think the best method of monetizing premium content is.