Ad Age: Why So Many Media Companies Stumble Globally The few news brands that have succeeded, to greater or lesser degrees, arguably include CNN, Bloomberg, People, Thomson Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Economist. Other contenders are the Associated Press, the BBC, ABC, NBC, maybe CBS, National Public Radio, News Corp. and the top U.K. dailies, said Ken Doctor, the newspaper veteran who's now an analyst at Outsell. "If a news-media organization sees itself as covering the wider world, sees it as its foundation, that in and of itself differentiates it from all the local media -- newspapers, TV, radio -- out there," he said. "If, in addition, it has substantial reporting and editing resources, then it can play. The tough part is the part we're in: Who wins the race to ubiquity and can make it pay off?"
NYT: If The Globe Were Sold, What Price? “The best guesstimate of the real price: a buck. The best of an announced price: between $50 and $100 million,” he wrote in an e-mail message. The devil will be in the details of the obligations that a buyer would assume, he said, adding that “a buck essentially represents a gentleman’s agreement: I take a liability, headache and a distraction off your hands.”
He said that the Times Company could hang on to some pension liabilities or other obligations in exchange for a higher purchase price, a number that would give the appearance that it was getting something for the more than $1 billion it paid 16 years ago. He added that no bank would be interested in financing a deal given how other deals have blown up, so “the owner’s own money is immediately at risk.”
BizTimes.com: Journal Sentinel faces daunting choices “There’s no strategy – this is panic. What we’re likely to see this year (around the country) and what we’ll see in Milwaukee too is (publishers asking) how much they need to cut back and how much they can do to still hold their place in the market. For publishers, it’s about ‘How do we stay alive and stay profitable until we can get to some sort of breathing period?’ (Economic) recovery will not bring back their old business, but it will give them some breathing room.”
AP: Threat to shut Boston Globe shows no paper is saf The threat to close the paper "sends a very clear message to all employees and unions of surviving newspapers — that this is not business as usual. This is uncharted territory....Newspapers all "have a sword over their heads," said Doctor. If the industry wants to survive, he said, "everyone has to give some blood."
It's almost unfathomable to imagine Rupert Murdoch as half-pregnant
(please...nooooooo), but that's the picture that seems to be emerging, at least as far as the WSJ.com subscription issue is concerned.
Yes, as a former colleague of mine liked to rant: Proof of Failure.
Times Select made sense -- on a white board -- and it did pull in $10M,
but it was fatally flawed.
That flaw looks to be the same that Rupert's WSJ is embracing.
We in publishing talked endlessly about the Times Select "business model." Did it make sense to wall off columnists? Were they walling off too much or too little content? Was the price point right?
The flaw turned out to be simpler. Most of us now expect our news on the web to be free, trained by habit over a decade now. When we run into a paywall or even a new registration barrier ("hey, what your sign"; "are you cat person or dog person"), we generally bounce off it, following a freer path of less resistance.
That -- plus good SEO -- is the simple reason that NYTimes.com traffic is up 30%+. It's not that so much more content became available, but
the Times ended confusion. It made it simple. Come in, sit down and
read, they told everyone.
And that seemed to be Rupert's simple idea. Why settle for a million customers, when you could get 10 to 15 million, he told us. But now, he's taking the Times Select route. WSJ.com subscriber; well, you get most of the archives for free. A non-subscriber can come to the site and quickly hit a wall. Come in from Google or Google News Archive, and you'll get a page or several free. Oh, you want to hear the last roar of the neocons -- try Opinion Journal, generally free to get at. It's all fairly confusing, no matter how much good SEO, SEM and tracking Dow Jones is up to. It has a chilling affect on potential readers.
Confused about the state of modern mass media? Join the club.
You could see the current landscape nicely displayed within a few minutes on CNBC's Fast Money stock talk fest, which I took in courtesy of Jet Blue yesterday.
First the panel wowed itself with its own press clippings, or rather video clippings of the day -- where the Fast Money crew had appeared on....TV. Among the clips, one of Jon Stewart's Daily Show. It was the one in which Stewart interviewed CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis, and used Fast Money clips, among others, to skewer money program jargon. (As Motley Fool picked up, there was irony within irony here as Willis, asked to interpret the jargon, got it exactly backwards.)
Media eating media eating media.
And then the Fast Money crew moved on to the newsmagazines, laughing about their collective obsolescence and holding up the current Newsweek cover: "The Road to Recession."
Well, when Newsweek reports a recession, it may be the bottom of the economy and the start of the way back up, the panel joked. The newsmagazines, they were saying, are so yesterday and so financially illiterate. Elements of truth in both.
More media eating media.
Of course, you've got your NBC and your CNBC and your MSNBC, long-time home of Newsweek. Media madness indeed.
Despite the disaster of the subprime meltdown, the old maxim -- better to own than rent -- still has enduring meaning.
We as Americans believe it, but as Americans we apply it to all our stuff -- real estate, cars, you-name-it. But we haven't applied it well to our selves, in this first nascent stage of the social Web. Hey, great, I can comment here and there, post a photo, start up pages on Yahoo, Linked In, Gmail, Second Life, MySpace and Facebook. But I've got to create those separate identities, learn different systems, update each one separately. It's like managing an Intenet Sybil, a multiple-personality confusion.
I first recall reading about the portable identity notion in Steve Rubel's
"Persuasion" blog last year. Last March. Rubel wrote about USAToday's newly socialized site (powered by Pluck), and said he liked it, but he didn't want to
have to create still another persona there. He wanted to be able to
take his profile created elsewhere (from his blog, MySpace, Facebook
etc.) and transport it.
However, it (USAToday) doesn't go quite far enough. In addition to building these features, the media need to bridge
their communities to the ones where we already spend our time. RSS,
widgets and embedded content would help here. For example, USA Today
should let us add our blog, Twitter or Facebook feeds or even embedded
YouTube vids to our profile pages.
Connecting communities is so easy today with web services and it
would go a long way toward making the their site - or any site for that
matter - stronger. Hopefully we'll see this happen soon.
Made intuitive sense to me. I create my own identity on my own platform, update it as I see fit, and then place it around the web as I see fit. It's a simple idea, and one that I know, and you know, because that's how we conduct our non-digital lives.
So I read with intrigue the well-received announcement that Automattic has gotten a $29.5 million funding bump from the New York Times and others. Around that announcement Automattic talked about where it might go -- extending its #1 personal blogging Wordpress platform farther out into the social world. That would build on anti-spam (Akismet), forums (BBPress) and avatar building (Gravatar). In sum, it looked like a direction towards enabling Me, my identity, controlled by me and placed judiciously on the web.
In its quest, Automattic has lots of competition working through the complex problems. In the social news space, Pluck, Your Hub, Topix, Clickability and YouNewsTV are among the players, and they should be working on the issue. The MySpaces, Linked Ins and Facebooks want to keep their neighborhoods fenced, but undoubtedly see the consumer want as well. Similarly, late-of-Friendster Jonathan Abrams has identified the same all-my-stuff-in-one-place idea with his new Socializr, with members able to create a profile and (easily) find users' photos on Flickr, their profile on MySpace and the
latest entries in their Xanga blog.
I'm unsure where all these efforts are at, how close to delivering us from Sybil-hood they are. My primary identity says, the sooner, the better.
Akismet, Automattic, BBPress, Clickability, Facebook, Gmail, Gravatar, Jonathan Abrams, Linked In, Micropersuasion, MySpace, New York Times, Pluck, Second Life, Socializr, Steve Rubel, Topix, Yahoo, YouNewsTV, Your Hub
The Hollywood writer's strike moves into its 11th week, though there are signs of a potential agreement. A month ago, I wrote about the parallels of the strike and the plight of newspaper people (we are a genus unto ourselves, right), and got great feedback on it.
As the news business winds downward, seemingly every day, we come to see more clearly that the future is about finding new ways to deliver journalism to readers. We see that that means a rethinking of all the accumulated apparatus between journalists and readers, little things like publishers, printing presses, delivery trucks and the forces of Madison Avenue.
Without revisiting all the issues and potentials here, let me call attention to a good news segment produced by Jeffrey Kaye of KCET, Los Angeles, and played today on PBS's News Hour (and thinking of media shifting, isn't it great to multi-task by listening to TV journalism on the computer). (Further note to PBS web jockeys: please make each segment of a program directly linkable.)
Kaye's eight-minute report should be played over loudspeakers in newsrooms. We hear echoes of independent voices, beginning to make new livings, and talking about "quitting their day jobs".
But most on-point to journalists I thought were these quotables from the piece:
"Some writers are developing an entrepreneurial streak. They don't need networks and studios as gatekeepers."
"You can make an HD movie and you can put it up on the Internet.....Prior to that you needed multi-billion dollar corporations to put it in theaters, advertisers, a giant mechanism, an absolutely out-of-control mechanism...Now it's available to millions of people."
Sure, there's much hyperbole there. But sub "journalism" for "movie" and consider the broken "mechanisms" of newspaper publishing today, and we've got parallels worth pondering.
The producers look at iPods, iPhones, laptops, TV monitors as simple add-ons to the core business. That's why their initial offer was a $250 flat fee when programs are put online. A flat fee in the new rev share economy, a goodly share of that $20 billion spent on online advertising in 2007. That's laughable. All distribution matters and the more sophisticated content creators get about mastering the new distribution, the less they'll need gatekeepers.
Talk to many in the industry about the Newspaper/Yahoo Consortium, and you hear:
We need more distribution, and Yahoo's got the eyeballs.
We've proven we can't do it all ourselves.
Why Yahoo? Because they're the ones who want to dance with us.
The 22 companies that have signed up to be part of the consortium have recognized an historic reality: the worlds of content creation and distribution have inevitably changed.
But the lingering question as the consortium tries to find its legs has been: Is the industry putting too many eggs in one basket. Immediately following question: How strong's the basket?
We got one sense of the basket's strength yesterday as word dribbled out that the company may cut 500-700 jobs out of its workforce of 14,000. That's not surprising, given its inability to compete with Google in search or paid search, and the much-laughed-about peanut butter culture that still sticks to the place more than a year after the Garlinghouse memo.
Yes, Yahoo says it is finally jettisoning more things that just don't work or duplicate each other, or things they just can't recall why they started, and that's long overdue. We'd believe that Yahoo's commitment to the consortium and newspaper partners is strong, given Jerry Yang's determined focus to please "regular users, Internet publishers, advertisers and developers" -- if we consider newspaper publishers "Internet" publishers and if we don't take that list of four groups as encompassing too much given Yahoo's resources.
But as newspaper publishers look more to deepen the consortium, going beyond the phase one of HotJobs to the phases of integrated advertising, they might pause to consider what some analysts are saying. Take this comment, for instance, from a Mercury News story:
Noting that Yahoo's share
of Internet searches fell from 22 percent to 17 percent in the past 12
months, Jeffrey Lindsay, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, said in
a recent research note that Yahoo should outsource paid search, automate display advertising and get rid of one in four employees.
Now that's just one analyst, but the point shouldn't be lost. Yahoo may well be forced into cutting far more employees. And it may get out of some basic businesses -- including paid search -- businesses that newspaper consortium are looking to big brother Yahoo to help them with. If Yahoo's Plan A, what's Plan B?
Another L.A. Times top editor bites the dust? Didn’t I just read that news? As news reports have pointed out, that’s the fourth Times top editor or publisher to depart in three years. But, amazingly, it doesn’t really surprise us anymore. We’re inured to the bad news the industry is rolling off its own presses.
James O’Shea’s departure, caused by his refusal to accept new Sam Zell-era budget cuts, is of course just one of many across the country. When, not long ago, Times publisher Jeff Johnson stood up to Old Tribune management, refusing further cuts, he found himself forced out but his heroism was praised. When Times Editor John Carroll made his own public point, taking his leave as he decried the loss of resources needed to create substantial community journalism, he received kudos.
I trust, given the times, O’Shea’s lauding will have a shorter half-life, though his parting cri de coeur is worth distribution:
“Journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers,” he wrote, “so journalists can make decisions about the size of our staffs and how much news remains in our papers and Web sites.”
Yes, indeed, but the "our" is what's in question now. Editors are losing custody of their papers.
The L.A. Times, of course, has long been the #1 daily in my little state of California, home of the world’s sixth biggest economy. The #2 daily has long been the Mercury News, once the pride of Knight Ridder and another one (with the Times) of America’s top 10 papers. No longer. (Just wondering: Is anybody still even doing these rankings and, if so, properly updating them given the quality declines we're seeing?)
Just before O’Shea’s ouster was announced, the Mercury News was itself going through a wrenching change.
Carole Leigh Hutton and George Riggs, two long-time Knight Ridderites brought into the MediaNews fold, fell out of it, within a week of each other. Carole Leigh had been on the job for just seven months. She had moved into it as a reliable, trusted hand when Merc News editor Susan Goldberg escaped to the relative security of Advance’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.
But the Mercury News has received so many body blows – earlier and disproportionately greater Internet competition draining readers and ad revenues, morale-sapping buyout after buyout and even inexplicable million dollar-plus budgeting “errors” – that the papers’ fortunes seem to tumble backwards in time. Reading it each day is like journalistic sci fi, seeing a paper launched into top status starting back in the ‘80s fall helplessly back to its small-town roots. Garish design, embarrassing writing, one-source stories and four-page sections that look like shopper editions too are new hallmarks of the once-proud paper. Meanwhile, by one Comscore 2007/2006 comparison, MercuryNews.com's lost 30% of its unique visitors year over year.
Brought in to right the sinking ship, Hutton lost the confidence of Media News execs when she urged a radical re-shaping and reconfiguration of the product – into three sections – and lost her job in the wink of an eye. Riggs, whom MediaNews had promoted to his post as head of MediaNews’ California Newspaper Partnership from his post as Merc publisher, left soon after, apparently just having had enough.
The changes at the top we’re seeing aren’t limited to the old, tired print side of the business. Wes Jackson, an early online leader for Belo, left his post as head of Belo Interactive last year. My sources tell me he’ll soon be followed by several other online newspaper business heads. The reason: frustration with the pace of change and empowerment.
So nobody’s happy, and the exodus we’ve so far seen is only prologue. Among buyouts, layoffs, early retirements and executive ennui, the numbers departing will only increase.
The most interesting question emerging in 2008 is where will they go.
There are 200,000 or so students in college-level journalism and mass communications (though news editorial work is one of the smaller concentrations here, among advertising and public relations), and many newspaper émigrés are finding havens in academe, planning on training the journalists of tomorrow for jobs that may well not exist. But there are only so many academic positions.
Anyhow, sick as they are of the industry’s downturn, journalists at all levels have a love/hate relationship with the craft. Once a journalist, always a journalist, on some deep level.
So maybe the metaphor here is two roller coasters passing in the night.
One reached its apex at the turn of the century, when newspapers were fat. That coaster is headed for the historic registry, and it’s started its downward descent, picking up speed each month.
The second is making painfully slow clack-clack-clack noises, climbing fitfully, rung by rung, giving both its passengers and spectators a wonder of whether it can keep climbing. In its first "national" car are such pioneer passengers as ProPublica, The Politico, HuffPost, Talking Points, Salon, Slate and the brand new Politicker, among others. Its second "local" car holds, among other others, the tiny staffs of CrossCut, Pegasus, MinnPost, the New Haven Independent and VoiceofSanDiego -- and few pilot passengers with unannounced business plans.
Two coasters. Uneven velocity. Treacherous track. And power supplies that can’t be called uninterrupted.
How many of the journalists jumping out of the descending coaster will make the leap to the slow-moving ascending coaster. How many of them will bring some funding with them? How many will find new ways to practice the craft?
In the amusement park that modern news media is becoming, these will be two rides to watch.
California Newspaper Partnership, Carole Leigh Hutton, CrossCut, George Riggs, HuffPost, James O'Shea, Jeff Johnson, John Carroll, L.A. Times, MediaNews, MinnPost, New Haven Independent, Pegasus, Politicker, ProPublica, Salon, Slate, Talking Points, The Politico, Tribune, VoiceofSanDiego.
Many of us live more and more of our lives on the web. I find myself relying ever more greatly on the wisdom (okay, opinions) of others in finding movies (Netlfix), music (eMusic) and everything from electric lawnmowers and instant-read meat thermometers to cameras and tagine pots (Amazon). (And there's little that matches the satisfaction of having Paul, my UPS delivery guy, delivering a fully assembled electric lawnmower to my front door, no shopping trip to Home Depot required.)
So I like what I see in some of the descriptions in SIIA's Previews day, Jan. 29 in New York City. Registration info at the link, and, in full disclosure mode, I'll note that I'm moderating a panel at SIIA on video aggregation this year on Jan. 31.
Several that caught my eye:
is the premier real estate disclosure company that empowers consumers
with comprehensive information to make smart real estate decisions and
reduce their real estate and mortgage transaction costs.
is a physician-led education company that has developed the most
extensive scientifically credible library of health and science imagery
in the world.
has built the largest platform for authentic, user-generated video
product reviews. The library holds 150,000 videos uploaded by unbiased
While music, movies and certain household items that Amazon able covers are web winners, there are so many other parts of our lives for which the web is little help. Too cumbersome to wade through far too much junk to find a critical mass of the useful. And real estate, medicine and many other kinds of product reviews are few of the areas that need help. So I'll be all-ears.
My crystal ball's a bit hazy, with images of Sam Zell, Rupert Murdoch, Kevin Martin and revolving doors all swirling about. But, if these things actually happen (as they like to say on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me,"), I'll opine on them:
1. Sam Zell and Dean Singleton form a domestic (business) partnership, offering a twist on Zell's "grave digger" business philosophy. Singleton partners up but assigns 47% of what comes to be known as the "living dead initiative" to Hearst and 56% to unnamed partners. NPR uses its Joan Kroc investigative reporting fund to hire forensic accountants to track the partnership's financing.
2. Rupert Murdoch offers Zell and Singleton their own Fox reality show.
3. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom offers to include the losing-more-than-a-million-dollars-a-week San Francisco Chronicle in city's new acclaimed homeless program. "Tough love" is what the Chron needs, he tells an approving crowd.
4. The San Francisco Bay Guardian's report that Chron editor Phil Bronstein has been sighted panhandling in the Mission, to help balance the newsroom budget, proves unfounded. But it finds a long run on the long tail of the web.
5. NAA updates its own 2008 prediction of ".5% negative growth" in fine print at the bottom of press release saying that U.S. newspapers now have expanded their reach to 112% of American population.
6. After a year in which video broke out and we learned about render and abandon rates, pre-rolls and post-rolls, the ad industry introduces "love handles," new ad spaces that ride side-saddle around rolling video.
7. "Yahoo 1.66" is the new code-name for the next step in the process for Yahoo Consortium members, as progress is promised in "getting the platform right."
8. Google Longevity launches in stealth mode, offering the promise of Eternal Beta for all Google registrants, a kind of digital Ponce de Leon status.
9. The newspaper industry finds a new outsourcing partner. Saying that its old-line delivery is just too expensive a cost center, the new Yahoopalooza Consortium teams up with Amazon, using its Prime delivery service to reach U.S. households. "They were going there more often than us anyhow, so we're piggybacking on their service."
10. And, oh yes, a tenth. Newspaper companies will reallocate their higher education grant giving, away from journalism schools and to newly formed programs focused on "financial engineering."