As I train down to D.C. for the Online News Association conference (moderating a panel hopefully titled, Optimize and Monetize, tomorrow; if you're there, say hello), the dizzying news industry news of the last week raises more questions than answers. Here's my top nine of the moment. Feel free to add to them:
- As we keep one eye out for the WSJ.com re-launch Sept. 16, I'm wondering why there's no WSJ -- or Marketwatch or Barrons -- app in the iPhone App Store. It's the place to be and be seen, show the flag and at least seem au courant. So far AP is there, with deep local, NYT has a strong, if straightforward presence, Internet Broadcasting has put together a decent aggregation product and Express is porting over its useful Palm/Blackberry product. But news company participation beyond that is weak, and not well-niched. Will a mobile iPhone app be part of the 9/16 re-do?
- How much more prominent will video be on the WSJ site? It's halfway down now on the home page now, though still a bit higher than NYT's video display. Both text-based companies are starting to master video, but their sites seem to say: text and photos. And, though, we know the Washington Post is doing massive video training, led by Chet Rhodes, here, too, we see little front-and-center placement. News customers are getting beyond a world of "content types" -- text, story, photo, audio, video, bar chart, etc. -- and just expect to get all the relevant info delivered on a single page, with best coverage (regardless of type) highlighted.
- New York's tabloids had a field day with the lipstick-on-a-pig nonsense (Post: "Boar War"; Daily News: "Lipstick Bungle". Will the Post be right with its data box head, "Slim pickins"? Indeed, did one of globe's top three rich guys buy at a suitably low-price, considering? Considering among other things that the New York Times is still the top newspaper brand in the world, and that it has barely tapped markets around the world. there are about 900 million English speakers here and there, and yet the Times today derives only about 4% of its revenues from outside the US (mainly International Herald Tribune-related.) That's a big potential upside. Slim's confidence in the Times also underscores the difference in value in national/global brands (like the Times and Dow Jones, as compared to local and regional papers. The big question here is how much the buy is a strategic, long-term one, with hands largely off, and how much a Harbinger-like one, pushing for greater short-term change and divestment of non-Times brand properties?
- As newspaper market caps plummet, how great a percentage of those valuations are now built on real estate? Sam Zell's people probably know more about the land under his holdings in L.A., Chicago, Baltimore and Florida, than they do about what's going on top of the land. NYT has taken criticism for its airy new HQ, which has been valued for as much as $1B. For the industry as a whole, with goodwill being discounted daily and future revenues highly uncertain, these real estate holdings are getting to be a prominent piece of newspaper valuations.
- If Gary Pruitt's not setting the table today, then how soon will tomorrow come? The McClatchy CEO issued a statement to tamp down journalists' and analysts' saying his stepping apart from four family trusts may signify financial restructuring and/or going private. Maybe that's so -- and the move is long-planned and coincidental to the company's current stress. Pruitt had to know that the trustee change would be found by journalists, and that would start speculation. So why not get out ahead of it, with a statement? Yes, the means of restructuring are tough, but something is going to give somewhere at McClatchy, and it's hard not to see this move as one part of setting the table for it.
- Isn't Dow Jones' touting of the "Heard on the Street" expansion just another volley in the budding all-out war between WSJ and NYT over business news? WSJ made some news, gleefully talking staff expansion and iconic Heard on the Street expansion as the Times has had to mainly talk about cutbacks. Heard's expansion, and the folding in of the WSJ's "The Skeptic" blog, makes sense. It's a strategic journalism, taking a well-known column, turning it into a brand, turning loose staffers to follow the business sun around the globe and expanding its presence in print and digitally. Online, Heard still seems more newspaper-like than blog-like (how will it be handled in the redesign?). We don't get the sense of constant updating by its newly assigned staff of 12. NYT's Andrew Ross Sorkin's Dealbook is the growing competing brand -- and it may get a boost as the Times moves forward with a business and tech news upgrade of its own the end of this month.
- As the long-awaited, much-planned-for and much-trained-for Yahoo ad platform rolls out later this month with the San Francisco Chronicle and the Mercury News, how much will the platform separate the growers from the shrinkers? Many consortium companies -- more than 40% of US circulation -- have invested in sales training and re-training. Some have hired anew, all for the purpose of making the most out of the behavior-tracking Yahoo platform. They believe its power will up their local rates and gain them substantial revenue streams from selling Yahoo inventory. The rub, though, is, as is often the case, execution. Case in point: in phase one of the Yahoo/newspaper ad deals, in which buys have been enabled more manually, a few newspaper titles have gone to town, well into deep six figures, while others have practically no new revenue to show. As consortium members look at consortium benchmarks over time -- the rollout of news sites on the platform won't be completed until the end of 2009, they'll see how well, or poorly, they're performing compared to peers. As we see quarterly earnings from 2Q, 2009 on, we'll all see who's making most of the Yahoo Bump.
- How soon before Yahoo-owned video service Maven is integrated into the consortium ad play, at least as an option? Just as readers are getting more content-type agnostic, ad buyers increasingly want more centralized ways to buy audience, whether behavioral-targeted display or pre-roll?
- How COOL is that? Could that be the budget regimen for 2009. COOL, as in expense reduction through: Clustering (having close-by properties share services), Outsourcing (you name it!), Offshoring (ad production plus) and plain old Letting Go, as in people, buildings, distribution trucks, etc. More on COOL soon.