- The Huffington Post wants you to help pay for its future coverage in Ferguson
- This: Why Atlantic Media is funding a social platform for sharing links, one at a time
- How a Norwegian public radio station is using Snapchat to connect young listeners with news
- Scorecard for Sports Illustrated writers awards points for being “beneficial to advertiser relationship”
- This Week in Review: Ferguson and press freedom, and BuzzFeed’s $50 million boost
- Racist content forces Thought Catalog to put barriers between contributors and Twitter
- Ferguson and the power of a free Internet
- The TV network/affiliate relationship is ripe for change
- The newsonomics of life after newspapers go solo — and new intrigue in L.A.
- The Ann Arbor Chronicle, a quirky local news startup, is shutting down after six years
- Mastering the dark arts: Facebook has been the key to Mother Jones’ growing popularity online
- It turns out the 2000s were not a good decade for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News
- Jezebel takes its Kinja problems public to fight the trolls
- Elizabeth Spiers on BuzzFeed and other “tech” companies: “You’re Still A Media Company”
- With $50 million, BuzzFeed growth calls for sharper lines between news and the other stuff
- In Cincinnati, a local TV station is making it feel more like a two-newspaper town
- After a summer Back in the Newsroom, journalism professors are headed back to the classroom
- Three views of the print future: genuinely worried, vaguely optimistic, and hallucinatory
- Thinking of starting an events business? API has a guide for news companies
- The New York Times is thinking about new ways to compete with free by charging less
- Turning a profit in the Netherlands: How a Dutch hyperlocal network has grown
- The BBC relaunched its blacked-out Thai news service on Facebook
- Robots either will or won’t take all our jobs
- Ken Doctor: 10 takeaways from Gannett’s blockbuster announcements
- How ProPublica uses a “reporting recipe” to cook up collaboration
- With staffers leaving and the local daily shrinking, the New Haven Independent prepares to reboot
- INN to offer paid tech consulting to members and non-members
- Ken Doctor: Five questions about Tribune Publishing on its first day of life
- The newsonomics of splitting up media companies, with Gannett maybe next
- Sharing on Facebook surges at The Telegraph
The media presence in Ferguson has grown steadily as the shooting of Michael Brown gave way to protests and, later, clashes with police. But now, with some signs that the demonstrations and conflict may be waning, news organizations have to make the calculation they always make during big events: Do we dig in or move out?
The Huffington Post is trying to find a way to do both. They're collaborating with Beacon Reader to fund an on-the-ground reporting project in Ferguson. Mariah Stewart, a resident who has been reporting on protests and journalists interactions with police, has been using the fund-a-journalist platform Beacon to help support her efforts. HuffPost wants to use Beacon to raise $40,000 for a more formalized ongoing reporting project with Stewart. The catch, of course, is that for the coverage to continue the project has to be fully funded by the crowd. A little under $5,000 has been raised with 20 days left in the fundraising period. With the Ferguson Fellowship, as they're calling it, The Huffington Post hopes to continue to follow the investigations into Brown's killing and the deeper issues that fed the protests. (On someone else's dime, of course — some reader may have questions about donating to a for-profit entity sold for $315 million just three years ago.) The funding will be used to support public records requests and skills training for Stewart. "She’ll use those skills to investigate the funding sources and uses of military gear in St. Louis County, follow efforts to reform police procedures aimed at curbing abuse and monitor the ongoing activity of local police and their unfolding relationship with the local community," according to the project description page. Huffington Post Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim writes:
Turn your followers into gold: Beacon won't be the Netflix of journalism, but it might help you make rent
Stewart will work directly with HuffPost's criminal justice reporter Ryan Reilly to cover the ongoing story of Ferguson, tracking the federal investigation into the killing of Michael Brown and reporting on the empaneled grand jury. She'll monitor the activity of the local and county police forces once the national spotlight dims, and will learn the intricacies of public records requests in an effort to divine the funding sources and uses of military gear in the county.For Beacon, it's another attempt to vary its funding models for journalism. Initially founded under a pay-for-one-of-our-journalists, get-access-to-all-of-their-work model, it's since added discrete multi-author publications and now partnering with an established outlet.
By now, you might have heard that Atlantic Media's Andrew Golis is incubating a small social network inside the company. Golis came to Atlantic Media as entrepreneur-in-residence a little over a year ago, eventually taking over The Wire as general manager in January. But for the last two months, he's been working on This, a social network that only lets users share a single link a day. (For more on that name, check out Kyle Chayka's "A History of This^, #This, and This." And though it officially uses a period at the end of its name — This. — _come on_.) So far, This has been invitation-only, open to a slowly growing handful of media types. But last week, Golis decided to tell the wider public a little about the project:
This. is an attempt to build on the rebellions against The Stream that are popping up all over. We love content recommendations from people we trust, but we can’t keep up, we feel constantly distracted, and are increasingly aware of how narrow "nowness" is a primary definition of value. The retro cool of newsletters, the success of niche #longform communities, the Explainer trend, Clickhole: they’re all reactions to our frustrations with The Stream. This. is an attempt to build a platform where influence comes from taste, instead of sheer volume (in both the quantity and loudness senses).The central gambit for This — that limited access to a platform can effectively elevate the digital dialogue — is an intriguing one. "One of the huge benefits of the one-a-day is it inflates the perceived value, both for the person sharing it and the person coming to it," Golis says. He likes to use a digital bookshelf metaphor to describe what This is — a place to collect and display media. But as we know, home bookshelves are often more about showing off than about reading books. The idea that your friends or favorite journalists necessarily share the best, most refined content might ultimately mute voices we're not preconditioned to think of as "good." That kind of incidental elitism is natural consequence of the filter bubble dilemma, but it's worth asking if "taste" is really a good thing. That said, I asked a few of the beta users (full disclosure, I'm one) what they thought, and the reviews are mostly positive. The New York Times' Jenna Wortham says it "encourages me to digest," though she wishes the links shared were "weirder" and "less expected." The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal sees This as part of larger trend toward slowing down the Internet, comparing the project to Electric Objects and Cowbird. Chalkbeat's Elizabeth Green has been using the site to bookmark articles for later reference, but says she also enjoys the high bar the site sets for what other people share. "I seem to be going to the site when I have time to read something and I don’t want to read crap," she says.
Building a social network that's meant to surface high quality content would seem to fit in with Atlantic Media, a company that has pushed the boundaries of what can be expected of a traditional publisher in recent years, from its aggressive web strategy to its moves into creative services and events businesses. Golis' new project is an opportunity to learn more about social distribution while maintaing their high-end, magazine-y brand, which is what Atlantic Media CFO Michael Finnegan says convinced leadership to fund the project. "We’re interested in any sort of innovative opportunity that contributes to our core focus on developing great content," Finnegan says. "I would say generally the appeal to a variety of senior leaders was the belief that it would be longer-form quality content." Golis wants This to be the social network users check not in the middle of the workday, but during that lean-back evening time when they might otherwise pick up a magazine. "The idea itself started initially because I was describing to a colleague of mine here my obsession with what I saw as the opportunity to get people link recommendations at 8 p.m. instead of the daytime, desktop bored-at-work community," says Golis. "I said to them, I wish that I got an email from Ta-Nehisi every night at eight o'clock that just said, "This," with a link." The network does power a newsletter, which is curated and captioned by Golis. It goes out in the afterwork hours with five of his favorite links. The email is popular among beta testers, with an open rate over 50 percent. As users adjust to the new network, the email is a good reminder to check what's been posted — Golis says it's a useful strategy for getting users to develop a habit. Says Wortham: "I find myself posting less, as time goes on, simply because I don't necessarily want another profile to maintain. But I look forward to the emails that cull together a list of some of the best links shared." As the network grows and splinters into clusters, Golis says the follow feature on This will become more important, and could eventually allow users to create custom email newsletters based on who they're most interested in following. "I think this is more in the model of the interest graph, instead of the friend graph." he says. "You might follow some of your friends if they have interesting opinions, but you might also follow journalists or celebrities or other people who you're interested in." (When I compared this model to LinkedIn's Influencer network, Golis said yes, but "I'm super happy if my Richard Branson is Ann Friedman.") Another inspiration for Golis was the social bookmarking website Delicious, popular in the early aughts. He enjoyed following public intellectuals like danah boyd and Ethan Zuckerman on the site, and wanted to bring back the "semi-public, semi-private" feeling of quietly keeping track of what people who you admired were reading. Wanting to know what your network is reading without having to wade through hundreds of tweets is fairly common feeling among content-drenched journalists. But whether a site like This will have a mass appeal remains to be seen. For Golis, creating a smaller network for a particular type of reader is just fine. "Maybe — and I'm happy to be wrong about this — but maybe there aren't a hundred million people who want to be this super self aware about curating this kind of media experience for themselves," he says. "I don't see there being some easy answer of, Oh, this is great at a million users or 10 million users or 100 million users. I want to play with the model and see what works."
Part of that playing around means testing new features. For example, Golis is enthusiastic about replacing the ubiquitous "like" or "favorite" mechanism with a new social reward — "thanks." "One of the things we've thought a lot about is the way favoriting and that kind of feedback produces incentives for people to share certain kinds of stuff," Golis says. By giving users the opportunity to thank their connections for sharing, Golis hopes to drive more meaningful interaction and a more thoughtful culture for the site. One element that This is missing is a way for users to interact with each other. There's no commenting system or messaging, no way to contact anyone about a link or start a conversation. Users can personalize the headline — for example, Vox's "Poll: White people think the Michael Brown investigation is going fine" becomes Susie Cooley's editorialized "Poll: White people are garbage." In the near future, Golis would like to add what he describes as a "Why this?" feature, a space for users to describe their choice in one or two sentences. But that's as far as he's willing to go for now. "The commenting and actual discussion — on the one hand, I'd love to do that," says Golis. "On the other hand, I know people who did Branch, and I've spent a decade now reading debates about comments on news stories, and I'm aware of how complicated and sticky that is." The site isn't open to the general public just yet — there's still a lot of product development to be done before it's ready. Golis is hiring an in-house team to work on the project — "a couple of brilliant developers and a designer and people working on analytics, some product management" — as Fictive Kin winds up their work on the project. But that doesn't mark the end of outside involvement with This. Atlantic Media is actively seeking venture capital to help turn the product into a company. Says Michael Finnegan: "We’re looking for a partner that has more experience with this sort of activity than we do. There’s a range of ownership and funding structures that would possibly exist with the right partner." Finnegan says that Atlantic Media's overall investment in This has been relatively small thus far, and characterizes the project as an experiment that is primarily about learning. "You’ve got all these media companies starting up incubators and accelerators," he says. "We’ve talked with partners about doing those sorts of things, but it’s not something we’re doing."
Would you click a "Respect" button more than a "Like" button? Experiments in tweaking news reader behavior for democracy
Image via szczel used under a Creative Commons license.
NRK set the world record for the longest single television show by broadcasting a cruise ship traversing the country's coast. The show was on the air for 134 consecutive hours, and 3.2 million people — more than 60 percent of all Norwegians — tuned in at some point. Last year, about one million people watched NRK's 12-hour broadcast of a burning fireplace, complete with color commentary. But NRK P3, one of the broadcaster's radio stations aimed at a younger audience, has taken a more ephemeral approach to broadcasting this summer, producing newscasts for Snapchat. The station has about 2,500 followers on its Snapchat account, Even Nielsen, a P3 producer told me via email. "P3nyheter want to present news to young people where they are," he wrote. "It is a challenge for news broadcasters today to reach young people, and we think social media is a good place to introduce news stories to them." I added P3nyheter (P3 News in Norwegian) yesterday on Snapchat, and was sent a 90-second-plus Snapchat story that covered a wide array of news. The story led with a series of snaps on the protests in Ferguson. ("Police used tear gas and shock grenades against protesters," one of the captions read in Norwegian.) It also covered the news of a 15-year-old soccer player being called up to the Norwegian national team, the delay in production of the sixth Resident Evil movie, and the first day of school for Norway's 10-year-old Princess Ingrid. P3nyheter's Ingvild Sættem Beltesbrekke explained to the NRK blog (in Norwegian) how the P3nyheter team goes about assembling the snaps. She explained (via Google Translate) the process was time-consuming in addition to their primary radio responsibilities, as well as posting on Instagram and other social networks:
We create images in Photoshop and video in Premiere, how we use templates suitable for the iPhone 4, where we design graphics, video, images and text to each item. When an update is ready it will be uploaded to Dropbox, and publish it via the Snaproll app on your phone, which provides the ability to add items to Snapchat stories.Snapchat is also a newsgathering opportunity for the station, as some users, for instance, sent P3nyheter pictures of helicopters battling forest fires earlier this summer, Beltesbrekke said. They now will occasionally ask listeners to submit photos via Snapchat. Snapchat recently added filters that show the current temperature over photos, so she said "we get many updates on the weather, especially during the heat wave now."
A number of news outlets in the U.S. and abroad have also begun using Snapchat and other chat apps. NPR sends snaps with various staffers reading a fact of the day, Bloomberg Businessweek uses the platform to offer previews of its weekly issues, and Mashable will often tell stories through its Snapchat account — earlier this week, they visited the pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington and also reported on the protests in Ferguson through the platform. And The Wall Street Journal reported last night that Snapchat is in discussions with media and advertising companies to begin a product called Snapchat Discovery that would show users editorial and advertising content and is scheduled to launch in November. The Daily Mail is one of the participating organizations, the Journal reported. P3nyheter sends Snapchat updates between two and five times each day, Nielsen said, adding that they'll obviously send more if breaking news necessitates it, and they also send out a number of updates via Instagram in addition to Twitter and Facebook. Still, the response has been generally positive, Nielsen said, as "it is a quick and easy way to get up to date with today’s headlines. A lot of people check their phones before they get out of the bed in the morning, and they check social media before the news sites."
Gawker reports today that at least one Time Inc. property internally ranks — and fires — its editorial employees using a rather unethical calculation. Based on a spreadsheet made available to the Newspaper Guild, it would seem that Sports Illustrated has calculated the worth of staffers based on categories including "Quality of Writing"; "Impact of Stories/Newsworthiness"; "Productivity/Tenacity"; "Audience/Traffic"; "Video"; "Social"; "Enthusiasm/Approach to Work"; and "Produces content that beneficial to advertiser relationship." From Hamilton Nolan:
Anthony Napoli, a union representative with the Newspaper Guild, tells us: "Time Inc. actually laid off Sports Illustrated writers based on the criteria listed on that chart. Writers who may have high assessments for their writing ability, which is their job, were in fact terminated based on the fact the company believed their stories did not 'produce content that is beneficial to advertiser relationships.'" The Guild has filed an arbitration demand disputing the use of that and other criteria in the layoff decisionmaking process. In a letter to Time Inc., the Guild says that four writer-editors were laid off "out of seniority order" based on the rankings in the spreadsheet above.Time Inc. has recently laid off hundreds of employees and restructured internally such that magazine editors report to the business side of the company. Whether this rubric is actively used across other Time Inc. properties is unclear. Plenty of media companies — Gawker included — measure employee performance based on how much web traffic their writing drives, but the values on display in the Sports Illustrated spreadsheet have left lots of media folks on Twitter feeling deflated.
Some day we’ll all be hired and fired by an algorithm designed by capricious humans http://t.co/47KTuLodq1 -- Michael Roston (@michaelroston) August 18, 2014UPDATE: A Sports Illustrated spokesperson reached out to me with the following comment:
“The Guild’s interpretation is misleading and takes one category out of context. The SI.com evaluation was conducted in response to the Guild’s requirement for our rationale for out of seniority layoffs. As such, it encompasses all of the natural considerations for digital media. It starts and ends with journalistic expertise, while including reach across all platforms and appeal to the marketplace. SI’s editorial content is uncompromised and speaks for itself.”
THIS WEEK'S ESSENTIAL READS: This week's most important pieces are Zeynep Tufekci on Ferguson and algorithmic filtering, Felix Salmon on BuzzFeed, and Ethan Zuckerman on the failings of the ad-based business model on which the Internet runs.PRESS FREEDOM AND CITIZEN JOURNALISM IN FERGUSON: The ongoing tensions in Ferguson, Missouri this week that followed a police officer's killing of an unarmed black teenager became a major story about the media as well. Two reporters were arrested without any apparent justification Wednesday night, and numerous others were tear-gassed or shot with rubber bullets by police. The two reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, were arrested as police cleared out a McDonald's they were in. They were released about a half-hour after they arrived at the police station, after a phone call from a Los Angeles Times reporter alerted the police chief to their arrests. Lowery wrote a first-person account of the incident. In addition, video showed an Al Jazeera America crew getting hit with tear gas and fleeing, followed quickly by a SWAT team dismantling their equipment. Law enforcement officials claimed the gassing was unintentional. Poynter's Al Tompkins and Kristen Hare reported on the experiences of several local reporters on the scene, and Ellyn Angelotti provided some legal background on what police are able to do to journalists during protests. Journalism professor Jeremy Littau noted the outrage expressed over Lowery and Reilly's arrests, and called on journalists to stand up for citizens' rights alongside professional reporters', especially since they have been so vital in disseminating information about events such as the Ferguson protests. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram argued that in situations where traditional journalists can't or won't witness abusive police behavior, the crowd-powered platforms like Twitter can be an important check on authority, and Jezebel's Kara Brown said the events in Ferguson have shown how traditional and social media can complement each other to draw attention to abuses of power. Sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci noted how discussion on Twitter about Ferguson bubbled up all week and then boiled over Wednesday night, then pointed out how quiet it was on Facebook at the same time, making the case that the algorithms that filter online information have significant (and unexamined) consequences regarding what issues get public attention. Sarah Perez of Techcrunch also explained why Ferguson was only rarely trending on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday. Before Wednesday night's arrests and confrontations, Twitter and Instagram also helped give exposure to criticism of media coverage of Ferguson with the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, in which black users showed contrasting pictures of themselves and questioned which one the news media would run. The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution both covered the trend, and Poynter's team of experts weighed in as well.
A $50 MILLION INFUSION FOR BUZZFEED: BuzzFeed took a big step forward beyond listicles this week, getting a $50 million investment from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz that will fund a major expansion that includes new content sections, a technology incubator, and more funds for its video division BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Chris Dixon, an Andreessen Horowitz partner who will join BuzzFeed's board, explained why the firm is making the investment, and The New York Times' Mike Isaac laid out what BuzzFeed will do with the money, while the Lab's Caroline O'Donovan went into more detail about its new, more autonomous divisions: Buzz, BuzzFeed News, and BuzzFeed Life. One aspect of the announcement that caught quite a bit of attention was Dixon's statement that his firm views BuzzFeed as more of a tech company than a media company. Gawker and New York Observer alum Elizabeth Spiers objected to that description, and tech writer Ben Thompson sifted through the claim, concluding that while BuzzFeed is still primarily a media company, it has a disconnect from traditional media logic and an ability to cheaply scale that make it uniquely valuable. Recode's Peter Kafka looked at BuzzFeed's $850 million valuation and said that if BuzzFeed is a media company, then that number is a huge overvaluation, but if it's a tech company, it's a steal. And for everyone saying "$850 million for a bunch of listicles and cat GIFs?!" Fusion's Felix Salmon argued that BuzzFeed is different from other media companies in that it doesn't sell audiences to advertisers, but instead sells its expertise in creating content that young, mobile audiences love. "THE BEST WAY TO THINK OF BUZZFEED’S VARIOUS PRODUCTS, THEN, IS PROBABLY AS A PROOF OF CONCEPT: IT’S A WAY TO SHOW ADVERTISERS THAT THE COMPANY IS ABLE TO REACH A LARGE, YOUNG, MOBILE, SOCIAL AUDIENCE IN A MULTITUDE OF DIFFERENT WAYS," Salmon wrote. Wired's Marcus Wohlsen examined what it means for BuzzFeed to be, as Dixon called it, a "full-stack" startup, and investor Om Malik looked at the potential hazards for BuzzFeed, specifically its reliance on Facebook and the continued success of native advertising. The Awl's Matt Buchanan noted that BuzzFeed is moving even deeper into Facebook and other social networks, creating content that only exists there, rather than on BuzzFeed's site. And TechCrunch's Josh Constine said the native ads on which BuzzFeed depends may be a fickle form. As Gigaom's Mathew Ingram pointed out, BuzzFeed's investors are betting that it can scale into a massive media company without losing the agility it has so prized, and Bloomberg Businessweek's Felix Gillette noted that its cost of production and scale of competition are about to increase just as dramatically as its cash on hand. The New York Times' Claire Cain Miller explored BuzzFeed's move toward higher-quality content and the larger accompanying shift online from search to social. Elsewhere, Mike Shields of The Wall Street Journal looked at the deal's implications for one of BuzzFeed's biggest competitors, The Huffington Post, and Forbes' Eric Jackson made the case that Yahoo should have bought BuzzFeed. Gawker's J.K. Trotter noticed that BuzzFeed has removed more than 4,000 posts this year, and Slate's Will Oremus talked to BuzzFeed's Jonah Peretti about why: The posts didn't meet its editorial standards for a variety of reasons, and they were created before BuzzFeed saw itself as journalistic. Poynter's Kelly McBride looked at the ethics of unpublishing in light of the situation.
GANNETT'S SPINOFF AND FUTURE OF PRINT: Gannett became the latest media company to spin its print properties off from its broadcast properties into a separate company last week, announcing a split set to take place next year with the broadcasting unit assuming all of the company's debt. The Lab's Ken Doctor, who had suggested just a day before the announcement that Gannett could use such a split, gave several observations on the current wave of breakups, arguing that despite the initial cash infusion for newspaper units, they'll ultimately result in less of a financial cushion for those properties. Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis argued that these newspaper companies are being spun off because the business is going to continue to get worse and they're punting on the work of transforming it. "WHAT THESE SPIN-OFFS SIGNALS IS THAT MEDIA COMPANIES DO NOT HAVE THE STOMACH, PATIENCE, CAPITAL, OR GUTS TO DO THE HARD WORK THAT IS STILL NEEDED TO FINISH TURNING AROUND LEGACY MEDIA," he wrote. The New York Times' David Carr painted a similarly depressing picture of the spun-off newspaper industry, but concluded that its decline is no one's fault in particular. Jarvis countered that the decline of newspapers has indeed been journalists' fault, and it should prompt not fatalism but renewed action and innovation. At USA Today, Michael Wolff was more optimistic, seeing some potential for newspapers to rethink what business they're in and reinvent themselves. And Poynter's Rick Edmonds said there's no reason to declare these newspaper spinoffs failures before they even occur, and USA Today's Rem Rieder said there's a way forward for newspapers despite print's decline: Find enough in digital subscriptions and advertising to keep revenue flat after years of declines. The Atlantic's Derek Thompson added that while there's no certain model for making money off of news, there are several promising avenues, many of them in digital-native outfits or organizations with substantial private funds behind them. Gannett also announced it's restructuring the newsrooms at five of its papers to cut down on resources for editing and design while increasing the emphasis on analytics, as Poynter's Sam Kirkland reported. Columbia Journalism Review's Corey Hutchins talked to an editor of one of the papers about what the changes will mean, and Jim Romenesko rounded up details of the news that journalists have to re-apply for their jobs, as well as the new job descriptions.
ANONYMITY AND ABUSE IN GAWKER COMMENTS: Writers at the Gawker blog Jezebel went public this week with their complaints about Gawker's inaction on an anonymous commenter posting pornographic rape GIFs, upsetting both readers and the staff members who have to remove the comments. Jezebel editor-in-chief Jessica Coen told Poynter the staff published its post "to light a fire under management’s collective ass.” disabling all images in comments as a temporary solution, then bringing back its old pending comment system, in which only comments from approved users are immediately visible, and the rest are put in a separate "pending" queue that's visible only with an extra click. As both Business Insider's Caroline Moss and the Lab's Justin Ellis pointed out, the tension here is between Gawker founder Nick Denton's vision of its commenting platform, Kinja, as an open, collaborative, and anonymous environment and the practicalities of allowing that kind of freedom to Gawker users. BuzzFeed's Myles Tanzer talked to Gawker staffers who expressed frustration at the disconnect between Denton's vision for Kinja and the difficult, time-consuming reality of wading through comments looking for quality material. And PandoDaily's Paul Carr pointed out the inconsistency between its handling of abusive content that affects its staffers and the content it posts about others.
READING ROUNDUP: A few other stories and discussions that have emerged in the busy last couple of weeks: — After making a bid for Time Warner earlier this summer, Rupert Murdoch announced his entertainment media company 21st Century Fox was walking away from negotiations with Time Warner, which had been taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate. As CNN's Brian Stelter reported, media watchers still see the deal as in play eventually, even if it's no longer seen as inevitable. The Guardian's Heidi Moore wondered whether we're seeing the decline of the great media moguls, without anyone to take their place. Meanwhile, News Corp's profits dropped, but Murdoch continued to express his bullishness on print. — The New York Times announced that it would now refer to torture by that name, rather than the term "harsh" or "brutal" interrogation techniques. The Freedom of the Press Foundation's Barry Eisler criticized the paper's reasoning for finally using the term, and journalism professor Dan Gillmor called for the Times to apologize for referring to it incorrectly for years. NYU's Jay Rosen analyzed the factors behind the Times' refusal to use the term for so long and its change of mind. — In the ongoing battle between Amazon and the book publisher Hachette, more than 900 writers paid for ad in The New York Times siding with Hachette and urging readers to complain to Amazon. Amazon responded with a letter to readers of its own, urging them instead to complain to Hachette. TechCrunch's John Biggs and the Times' David Streitfeld criticized Amazon for its misuse of a quote from George Orwell, and writers John Scalzi (two posts), Chuck Wendig, and Matt Wallace picked apart Amazon's argument. Writer Christopher Wright and Slashgear's Nate Swanner gave more "a pox on both their houses" analysis. — Two potentially useful posts: The American Press Institute's Kevin Loker on the best strategies for using events to generate revenue for news organizations, and journalism professor Dan Kennedy with a guide to blogging like a journalist. — Finally, two thought-provoking pieces: Mat Honan of Wired on what happened when he liked everything on Facebook for two days, and Ethan Zuckerman in The Atlantic on the ad-based model as the Internet's original sin (along with Jeff Jarvis' response).
Photo of Wisconsin protest in support of Michael Brown by Overpass Light Brigade used under a Creative Commons license.
There's no need to enumerate the breadth and variety of godawful content published by millennial angst engine Thought Catalog. The site's propensity for publishing garbage is so well known, they actually address it in the FAQs. But today, the site published and tweeted a short article so egregiously racist, it could not be ignored.
Ferguson, Missouri Looks Like A Rap Video http://t.co/RZgCqc90AD pic.twitter.com/GERC66l8LX -- Thought Catalog (@ThoughtCatalog) August 14, 2014The Internet responded emphatically. From the comments: "This 'article' is absolutely disgusting." "This is an absolute embarrassment." "This is some racist shit. Good Job TC — you are now a White Supremacist publication." From Twitter:
@ThoughtCatalog y'all should…..take this down probably. -- Dottie Ray. (@iWRIGHTmymemoir) August 14, 2014Though author Anthony Rogers wasn't the only person to point out today that looting is illegal, the offensive nature — not to mention incomprehensibility — of his post was enough to make me wonder how it could have gotten past a human editor or producer at Thought Catalog. In an email, Thought Catalog publisher Chris Lavergne told me that, in fact, "This particular piece was not screened by a producer." The bar is extremely low for becoming an approved Thought Catalog contributor — "basically just email us," according to Lavergne — and then you can publish whatever you want. Then, via SocialFlow, a tweet will be sent from the Thought Catalog account automatically. Writes Lavergne:
Today, in response, we deployed code that blocks community uploads from going straight to our social feeds without human approval. Only staff, independent contractors, and vetted community contributors will now be put into the SocialFlow queue.The inherent risk of giving contributors free rein of your publishing platform was raised earlier this week when Gawker Media was overrun by users posting abusive gore and rape GIFs on Kinja. Gawker responded, shutting down image posting or comments entirely on some posts. Thought Catalog, which hasn't taken down Rogers' post, would appear to prefer allowing the trolls to have their way.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Caroline tried very hard to avoid using the word "platisher" in this post, but it really does need to be mentioned here. _Platisher_.
In a piece posted to The Message collection on Medium today, University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci reveals how issues of net neutrality are altering the news coming out of Ferguson, Mo. First, Tufekci compares how the story is unfolding on different platforms. While Twitter catapulted Ferguson into the national media, she says, Facebook's algorithms obscured what was happening in Missouri early on. She goes on to illustrate how algorithms on social sites control the way a news story is brought to our attention.
This isn’t about Facebook per se—maybe it will do a good job, maybe not—but the fact that algorithmic filtering, as a layer, controls what you see on the Internet. Net neutrality (or lack thereof) will be yet another layer determining this. This will come on top of existing inequalities in attention, coverage and control. Twitter was also affected by algorithmic filtering. “Ferguson” did not trend in the US on Twitter but it did trend locally. So, there were fewer chances for people not already following the news to see it on their “trending” bar. Why? Almost certainly because there was already national, simmering discussion for many days and Twitter’s trending algorithm (term frequency inverse document frequency based) rewards spikes… So, as people in localities who had not been talking a lot about Ferguson started to mention it, it trended there though the national build-up in the last five days penalized Ferguson. Algorithms have consequences.Tufekci goes on to imagine a near future in which control over Internet access is used to control media coverage of breaking news stories like this one. For example, livestreams of protests require high-speed Internet connections, and in California, legislation that would make it easier to disable smartphones remotely is being considered. The issue of access to devices and the network is poignantly underscored by the arrest of two reporters who were charging their phones and using the Internet at a Ferguson McDonald's. Quartz's Adam Epstein writes today about how the fast and free connection at the fast food chain has an unintentionally democratizing effect — when news is breaking, free Internet has the power to bring people together in unusual places. Writes Tufekci:
I hope that in the coming days, there will be a lot written about race in America, about militarization of police departments, lack of living wage jobs in large geographic swaths of the country. But keep in mind, Ferguson is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.
At Poynter, Al Tompkins notes an interesting development in the TV world:
CBS fired an opening salvo in what could become a disruption for network affiliated television stations. WISH TV, the LIN Broadcasting owned station in Indianapolis will no longer be the CBS affiliate starting January 1, 2015. CBS is moving from LIN owned WISH-TV to the Tribune owned station WTTV, currently the CW affiliate. Tribune also owns the FOX station in Indy. The move will cost WISH about half of its revenue, according to one media analyst, who added it will serve as a warning to other network affiliated stations. CBS is sending a signal that it is prepared to play rough when it comes to the percentage of revenue that local stations pass along from the retransmission fees that cable companies pay the local stations. In TV terms, the money that an affiliate pays a network is “network compensation” often called “net-comp.” Side note: A couple of decades ago, networks sent compensation to local stations and it is now the other way around.This is worth watching because of a few simple facts: — Despite the fact that discussions about the future of news are dominated by digital people and newspaper people, local TV news is still the No. 1 source of news for Americans. — Even though the Aereo decision at the Supreme Court came down in favor of the broadcasters, the threat of Aereo made it obvious that the traditional relationship between local stations and national networks is not carved on stone tablets. Just as NPR is slowly building a brand and products that have less need for local stations, it's not difficult to imagine a future where you watch "CBS" or "NBC" rather than your local CBS or NBC affiliate. The delocalization of media continues apace. — If networks keep trying to soak local stations, it likely only speeds up a more fundamental reshaping of their relationship.
SNL Kagan, a leading media research firm, says within three to five years local stations may be handing over 50-to-60 percent of their cable retransmission income to the networks. The cost of resisting could be high.And local news has become an increasingly important part of station revenue. Local TV news isn't as sexy as digital startups, and its decline hasn't been as dramatic (or important journalistically) as newspapers'. But there are real changes coming that could have a real impact on how informed people are about their communities.
that orphanage, as the quarter-by-quarter results of the standalone newspaper-only companies roll out ("10 takeaways from Gannett's blockbuster announcements"). New rounds of troublesome numbers could precipitate still more sales and combinations of properties. Southern California — ground zero for daily newspaper bankruptcy and turmoil — remains Exhibit A. This week's Tribune Publishing results are instructive. Tribune's eight papers, led by the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, were down 3.8 percent in revenue. The usual culprit: print advertising. Overall advertising is down 7.1 percent, with detail on print vs. digital performance unavailable until next week. Circulation revenues helped offset that drop; they were up 2.3 percent, due to higher subscription pricing. The thinness of margin is all-too-apparent: The company made just $15.2 million in net income, down from $21.9 million a year ago. (The first six months' net income comes in about $27 million, down from $43 million a year ago.) The Q2 profit is small in dollars, and represents a razor-thin 6 percent margin. Though the stated results are somewhat clouded by the second quarter being the newspapers' final reporting as part of the combined Tribune Company, it's the expense side that will probably see more split-related change than the revenue side going forward. The Tribune's revenue performance mirrors that of two other newly split companies. Time Inc's first standalone report, too, showed it staring into a small but nasty revenue hole. Time Inc. was down 2 percent year over year, attributable to 5 percent decline in circulation revenue; optimistically, its 12 percent digital ad increase helped swing advertising to a 3 percent positive. News Corp, which split last summer, has been similarly challenged. It reported a (currency-adjusted) 5 percent decline in news publishing revenues, largely due to ad dropoffs. (Meanwhile, even those more highly valued broadcast-centric companies emerging from the split are showing they're not necessarily high fliers — they're just in much better _relative_ shape than distressed newspapers. For instance, Tribune's broadcasting operations showed a small $3.8 million _decline_ in advertising, although that was more than made up by increased retransmission revenues. Gannett's recent broadcast ad results showed similar weakness. Both companies' acquisitions provide them good banner headline increases in revenue, but the underlying digital disruption of their core advertising businesses will become more noteworthy over time.) The splits offer the choice of your favorite pop tune — "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," or "One (Is the Loneliest Number)," perhaps. With an inflation rate of 2 percent, and revenues dipping 2-5 percent, news publishers will need a big shovel to dig out. They're at least a handful of digits away from just staying even, despite all the many publisher efforts at diversification or developing alternative revenue streams. At the L.A. Times, a surprising new publisher joined this struggling crowd. Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin's first big appointment is a little bolt out of the blue: Austin Beutner. Beutner is hardly a household name, but he's a player in L.A. A venture capitalist turned one-dollar-a-year salaried L.A. Deputy Mayor for "jobs," the appointment of the 54-year-old Beutner signals an effort to shake things up — and maybe set things up for the future. First, he's not a newspaper guy by trade, a member of the brotherhood of usual publisher suspects. Second, he's a Los Angeleno (since 2000), glad to call himself a civic booster. Ever since 2000, when the Tribune Company bought Times Mirror and the Times, the civil war between Chicago and L.A. has simmered and occasionally boiled. Times leadership has bristled at corporate and Chicago authority, all of that exacerbated by the nonsense of the Sam Zell ownership years and the ceaseless wielding of the budget-cutting knife. Now Beutner, a guy who doesn't need a job, is poised to try to break barriers of past rivalries and past strategic thinking.
He, along with his new boss, Jack Griffin, will need help. Griffin lays out the right playbook. It includes modest increases in reader revenue (with a smarter, company-wide digital/all-access system finally rolling out within six months among all eight newspapers, which have haphazardly applied the wider lessons of paywalls) and marketing services (growing, but still small in revenue). But the issue for Beutner and Griffin, and for leaders of all the newly standalone companies remains _time_. Without those new revenues, only more cost-cutting — further weakening products — can maintain even those meager profits. Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co., and JPMorgan Chase currently own 40 percent of the company and control it. We've chronicled the will they/won't they sales odyssey of the past year or two ("The newsonomics of the Kochs: The impact on the L.A. news landscape"). Austin Beutner occupied a role in those dramas, expressing interest in buying the Times (or possibly all of Tribune) when it looked like the company would be sold, before it decided to first split its newspapers from TV assets last year. He's a smart guy, and now he's in the driver's seat at the Times. That's a perfect starting point for what could be a "management buyout" of the Times — and maybe more properties — as Tribune Publishing's tax spinoff clock winds down over the next couple of years. By then — or sooner — we may see rollups, or maybe rolldowns, in the 20 million-person population area ranging from Simi Valley to the Mexico border. Look to Orange County, to start. The news keeps coming out of Aaron Kushner's always shape-shifting family of Registers. It now looks like owner/publisher Kushner is getting closer to closing on the sale of the Register's headquarters building, at a sales price of about $27 million, as reported by the Orange County Business Journal. (The Register would then likely lease back space in the building. That would mean that none of the major dailies in southern California any longer owned its own building — another a sign of Splitsville: Real estate is being divorced from newspapers just as surely as broadcast is.) Further, Kushner's Freedom Communications finally settled one of three claims/suits against it. On July 31, the L.A. Superior Court approved a $4 million arbitration award to former Freedom execs Mitch Stern and Mark McEachen. That case, over contracted severance payments, gives the execs a lien on real estate parcels that Freedom owns — and which are also for sale. In this case and in another, Aaron Kushner has countered claims in part by blaming the "misrepresentations" of others. In an April 23 judgment, Judge Luis Lavin failed to find those claims credible. The misrepresentation defense could take on its own irony, as Kushner's own representations to those with whom he had financial dealings have come under fire. In that April 23 decision, the judge also considered the necessity of providing Stern and McEachen an attachment: "Petitioners' contend that Freedom will likely not be able to satisfy its severance payment obligations due to its perilous and continually worsening financing condition. The Court agrees."
What is that financial condition? Freedom is a privately held company, so we can only judge from fragments. In June, its seemingly rushed buyouts of about 70 employees and furloughs (forcing two-week unpaid leaves that all employees had to take within the following six weeks) screamed panic to many. While word of slow-paying key Register vendors is rampant, Kushner, characteristically, described the payment practices to me Tuesday as business as usual: "We're running our game." Further, he notes the company's "clean balance sheet." Freedom does have an obligation to the lenders who replaced previous financing, in December of last year. Silver Point Finance is owed $24,688,391.53, accordingly to July 31 Superior Court documents. It presumably has first call on real estate sales proceeds, given the language in the court ruling. Related to the Silver Point financing, the July 31 court ruling also indicates "The Freedom Parties acknowledge, for the benefit of the Agents and the Lenders, that (i) there exists one or more "Events of Default" under the Senior Lender Agreement, and that the Agent and the Lenders are entitled to exercise all rights and remedies in respect of such Events of Default……and (ii) the application of the sales proceeds of property constituting Claimants' Collateral as set forth with the exercise of such rights and remedies…." Then there's the heavy burden of pension obligations, which Freedom took on as it bought the Register and other properties out of bankruptcy proceedings two years. Freedom maintains certain early obligations to the federal Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation and retains responsibility for funding the plan going forward. I asked Kushner if the company had missed a summer payment obligation, and he only offered, "I'm not going to get into it. I'm not commenting on our pension fund." I also asked him to verify whether the pension fund, which he controls, had purchased shares of Freedom Communication stock last year, to help fund his fall acquisition of the Riverside Press-Enterprise. He acknowledged that the pension fund had indeed bought Freedom shares, but says that purchase was "unrelated" to the Riverside purchase.
Finally, there are two other lawsuits. Each, notably, includes litigants now involved with Tribune and its Los Angeles Times — the Times being both a head-to-head competitor (especially since Freedom launched the Los Angeles Register in April) and a key vendor, delivering Register subscriptions in its home Orange County. One lawsuit involves Angelo Gordon, which is suing Aaron Kushner for $17.45 million related to money he held back when he purchased Freedom in 2012; Angelo Gordon is one of those three major owners of Tribune Publishing. Finally, there is curious suit of Jack Griffin. Griffin, who formally became Tribune Publishing CEO last week, served as an advisor to Kushner when he tried to buy The Boston Globe and, he says, when Kushner's 2100 Trust bought Freedom two years. He is seeking up to $13 million, for related fees he says are owed. Griffin's suit now takes on a new color. After all, Griffin and Kushner are now the CEOs of the two largest newspaper companies operating in southern California. While a financial falling out may have torn them asunder, their current posts bring them back together, geographically at least. To be clear, Griffin's suit is a private matter, unrelated to his new tenure at Tribune. But the bad blood between the two brings a new edge to head-to-head newspaper competition in greater L.A. Which brings us back to the question of where all of this may lead. The new Tribune Publishing has already made the point that it's got an eye out to buy more print properties in its core eight markets. It says its recent acquisition of Annapolis-area papers (close to its Baltimore Sun) will increase earnings later this year. So it makes sense to see Tribune as a potential buyer for adjacent Southern California news properties. The opportunities are certainly within reach. Let's also remember that most of the daily press can be bought in this greater region. There's not only Freedom Communications, with its ever-changing strategies and questionable finances. In San Diego, owner Doug Manchester hasn't hung a "For Sale" sign on the Union-Tribune he bought three years ago, but he'll take calls. Digital First Media's Los Angeles News Group is all but for sale, as DFM's owners prepare their own auctions more widely. Tuesday, in fact, a rumor made the rounds in the Orange County Register newsroom: Freedom and the Los Angeles News Group could _merge_. I asked Aaron Kushner about it. He laughed and said, "We don't comment on rumors…It's a fluid market." In that flux, I asked, "Are you a buyer or a seller?" "We have a proven track record of being acquisitive," he said. On one hand, given tight money all around, deals seem tough to pull off. On the other hand, they seem inevitable. If somehow the new Tribune — constrained somewhat, by debt, lack of cash, and tight cash flow — could _finance_ a deal, its path to doing so seems to be clearing by the month. Who better to put together that deal than its new publisher, Austin Beutner? A founding principal in the Evercore investment banking advisory firm, he knows M&A inside out. He also knows the financial straits of the newspaper industry, and believes that intelligent, well-funded consolidation could be a route forward to successful, high-quality daily journalism. It all seems like a lot to consider for a one-week-old Tribune Publishing company and a neophyte publisher newly named. But then again, change in America's newspaper industry seems to picking up rapidly this year.
Photo of the 2014 L.A. Marathon passing in front of an In-N-Out Burger by Krocky Meshkin used under a Creative Commons license.
The post announcing the news was published late Thursday night: The Ann Arbor Chronicle, a local news site covering the home city of the University of Michigan, would cease publishing on Sept. 2, the sixth anniversary of the site's launch. (And, not coincidentally, the 25th wedding anniversary of the site's publisher Mary Morgan and editor Dave Askins.) The Chronicle specializes in in-depth coverage of local government, including exhaustive recaps and analysis of the meetings of local government bodies ranging from the city council to the public library board. In its current iteration, the Chronicle was financially viable, Askins wrote in his column announcing the closure. But like many small online local news outfits, it took a lot of labor from its founders, and Askins and Morgan could no longer put in the effort needed to keep the Chronicle afloat. "I'd like to stop before I am dead, because there's more I'd like to do in life than add to The Chronicle's archive," Askins wrote. The news of the site's impending closure caught many in Ann Arbor by surprise, but Askins told me that he and Morgan had been considering shuttering the Chronicle for quite some time.
A huge loss for Ann Arbor, leaving a vacuum of crucial govt. reporting. You will be sorely missed, @a2chronicle! ❤️ http://t.co/3Sqo6YYETf -- Andy Fowler (@andyfowler) August 8, 2014
I've been a reader of The Ann Arbor Chronicle for years. Sad to see it go. I wish Dave and Mary the best of luck in the future. -- Jeremy Allen (@JeremyAllenA2) August 8, 2014"There wasn't any particular thing that triggered the decision — in fact, the decision was made several months to possibly even over a year ago," he said. "And certainly the thinking behind it could be traced to two years or more ago. So it was not as if something happened and we said, 'Okay, that's it. That was the last straw.'"
The amount of revenue the Chronicle brought in grew steadily through the publication's early years, but over the past several, it's plateaued around $100,000 annually. That was enough to pay the Chronicle's expenses and to allow Morgan and Askins to make a living, but if they wanted to bring on additional full-time help to ease their workload, Askins estimated that existing revenue would need to increase by four times to fund a full-time staff of five. "The techniques we were using clearly were not going to yield that result," he said — 38 percent of its revenue currently comes from reader donations, with the rest coming from local advertisers.
"We sort of recognized that the kind of journalism that we were selling had a reasonable expectation of the kind of support we were enjoying, and that it would simply take an all-consuming effort on our part, so we needed to figure out how much longer we were going to do that," Askins said. (Askins said he generally works 14 to 16 hours every day.)
With a devoted if niche audience, the Chronicle was well loved in Ann Arbor, a college town of about 100,000 people. Though the Chronicle is a for-profit publication, some prominent nonprofit local outlets such as Voice of San Diego and MinnPost have turned to membership models to bring in additional revenue, offering events or other perks to readers who join the sites. The Chronicle does hold an annual awards dinner, but it isn't directly a revenue-generating event. And with only a two-person full-time staff, many of the options available to larger publications aren't as viable for the Chronicle or other small niche publications. Morgan and Askins haven't decided what will be next for them, but Askins said the couple has enough of a reserve to last a few months before they decide their next venture. But the Chronicle will live on in some capacity once they cease publishing. They intend to leave their archives online at least through the end of the year, and plan to also maintain their popular Ann Arbor events calendar. Askins also said he could potentially meet with some staffers at The Michigan Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Michigan, to help improve their coverage of Ann Arbor public affairs once classes begin next month. (Disclosure: I edited the Daily when I was a student at Michigan.)
A club that will have me as a member: Voice of San Diego and MinnPost are building out their membership models
The Chronicle was launched in 2008, and within a year of the site's founding, The Ann Arbor News, the town's Advance Publications-owned daily newspaper, ceased daily publication and transformed into AnnArbor.com, a web-focused operation that only printed the paper two days a week. Askins and Morgan, who formerly worked at the News, have never been shy when it comes to criticizing AnnArbor.com, which was retro-rebranded last year as The Ann Arbor News, and many of the Chronicle's readers were interested in granular coverage of city affairs that isn't offered by the News or other local publications. Take the August 6 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. The Chronicle published four brief news reports detailing the results of various votes the board took on the night of the meeting. Then, on August 12 — six days after the meeting — the Chronicle published a 6,500-word-plus story on the meeting written by Morgan. The Ann Arbor News only previewed the meeting.
The Ann Arbor News, or There and Back Again: Why the news world's first print edition of a website is coming to a close
"I have trusted that — even when I wasn't in the room — the Chronicle was there, recording the facts and (sometimes) offering a valuable point of view," one Ann Arbor city council member wrote in a comment on Askins' post announcing the Chronicle's closure. "No media has watched local government do its messy thing with a clearer eye. No better record could exist." Though the Chronicle has published stories as many as 10 days after meetings, it has taken efforts in recent years to speed up its turnaround time. About 18 months ago, for instance, the Chronicle began offering liveblog coverage ("I try to avoid the world blog," Askins says) of Ann Arbor city council meetings. The time-stamped entires, which offer a detailed play-by-play of meetings, have replaced the Chronicle's lengthy recap posts for council meetings. Ann Arbor held city elections on August 5, and the Chronicle provided live election results in a Google spreadsheet by asking readers to help them by visiting their local precincts after the polls closed to report the election results. Some of the campaigns assisted with the effort, and a number of school children also participated, as the Chronicle worked out an arrangement with the Ann Arbor Public Library to give any students who participated points in the library's summer engagement program. "The Ann Arbor Chronicle that is best known for writing super long meeting reports — this was the opposite of what people have come to think of us as," Askins said.
Photo of Dave Askins and Mary Morgan in 2012 by Michael Andersen.
Mother Jones has been around since 1976, but it really put itself on the map, digitally speaking, in September 2012, when David Corn published the now famous video of Mitt Romney talking about nearly half — or 47 percent — of the American citizenry. The video set a traffic record for the website and grew their digital audience considerably, growth that was the main thrust of an interview the Lab did with publisher Steve Katz a year ago.
Recently, the magazine managed to break its one-day traffic record again, with 3.1 million viewers on June 30, the day the Hobby Lobby decision came down. Katz says big traffic days like that tend to raise the baseline for average monthly views. "Partly that's good reporting — making good decisions about the right people to hire," he says. "And partly it's about doing our best to master the dark arts of social media and digital audience development." Mother Jones achieved the former in the mid-2000s, when the magazine opened its D.C. bureau and hired reporters and editors to build a daily news site. That office now has a staff of 16, in addition to 12 in New York and 55 in San Francisco. The latter — the dark arts of social media — has fallen into place more recently, thanks in large part to the hiring of engagement editor Ben Dreyfuss. "Ben is a pretty amazing guy," says Katz. "We're really happy he works for us. He's done really fantastic work in helping to develop strong patterns of engagement on key social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Twitter. He definitely has his own voice, a different voice from Mother Jones, and we're okay with that." Both Katz and Dreyfuss acknowledge that, while referrals from platforms like Twitter, Digg, Reddit, and Pinterest have grown, the greatest increase far and away has come from Facebook — and that was intentional. Asked what the biggest change he's brought to Mother Jones is, Dreyfuss points to his decision to double down on Facebook.
"Refocusing energy onto that, instead of other social networks where I could spend a time with very little ROI — shifting the social resources of Mother Jones towards that has paid off a lot. I think that's the biggest change," he says. Dreyfuss says that while other publications have been frustrated with declining reach on Facebook in recent months, Mother Jones is among those that have benefited from changes to the platform's algorithm. "From what we hear, Facebook is privileging certain kinds of content-rich sites. Mother Jones fits into that category," Katz says. "As a result, partly through whatever machinery that algorithm is putting into play, and partly because Ben is really good at what he does, and partly because we take social audiences really seriously, our social media traffic and our Facebook traffic in particular has really taken off." For comparison, Mother Jones has around 829,000 followers on Facebook and 403,000 on Twitter. The Atlantic has 922,000 on Facebook and 531,000 on Twitter, while The New Republic has just under 100,000 followers on both platforms. Mother Jones averages 7 million monthly uniques, while The Atlantic averages around 16.6 million. So what does Dreyfuss do? For starters, he takes the bulk of the responsibility when it comes to running Mother Jones' social accounts, posting stories to Facebook and Twitter with captions aimed at getting attention. Mixed Media, a blog where he shares aggregated video content and writes short posts about anything from wild weather to Beyoncé to selfies, plus a lot about books and music. When it comes to deciding what content and packaging will help Mother Jones to build audience, Dreyfuss says he uses himself as the bellwether. "The stuff I end up blogging about is stuff I think our readers would enjoy. It's stuff that I tend to enjoy personally," he says. "I normally use me for the example of a lot of this stuff. I think a lot of people share my tastes on things like this. So, I normally choose myself as a barometer for it." The motivation behind Dreyfuss's strategy is to bring new audience to Mother Jones content — a younger readership, people who might not be familiar with the Mother Jones brand but could one day become subscribers, or at least regular readers. But the Internet-native tone Dreyfuss uses to draw these new followers in doesn't always sit well with the more traditional Mother Jones readers. For example, on a post called "Here Is a Video Of a Crane Destroying a Truck," one reader comments: "There have been instances where my voice and my style have gotten pushback from some of the longtime followers," Dreyfuss says. "There's regularly people who are upset with either the light stuff I do or the snarky tone. I understand that, but there's always pushback when there's editorial change. I remember the first time that there was a 'Fire Ben Dreyfuss' movement. It was in October, and it was a post about vaccinations. I do remember seeing all of the angry comments and being mortified. I was like: Am I about to get fired?" Here's another, more recent threat, and the response from Dreyfuss:
Methinks @MotherJones needs to rethink “engagement”. @bendreyfuss’ tone deaf & tasteless Beyoncé piece should be a fireable offense. -- Brian Flores (@BigLebowski) July 23, 2014
@BigLebowski I don’t respect you or your opinion but it’s important to me that you know that I am laughing so hard at you right now -- Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) July 23, 2014
@bendreyfuss Just another useless trustafarian masquerading as a “journalist”. @MotherJones can thank you being a twat for losing me. -- Brian Flores (@BigLebowski) July 23, 2014
@bendreyfuss @BigLebowski Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Ben, you’re fired. Please pack your shit and go. -- Mother Jones (@MotherJones) July 23, 2014Clearly, Dreyfuss is still around, which suggests that the attention his posts and tweets and headlines draw is what Mother Jones was looking for in hiring him. "Sometimes he's out there on the edge there a little bit, but that's okay. It works for that kind of setting," says Katz of Dreyfuss's voice. "We're not going to do something completely off the wall, but I think the definition of what that means is more open than what it might have been in the past. We're a little less locked down." But there's more to Dreyfuss's strategy than making a splash. Attention-getting posts and headlines bring in little bursts of traffic, but that's not Mother Jones' end game. The light content is meant to keep the audience in place so that when a heavily reported series or investigative story is published, there's someone there to read it. It's sort of the reverse tactic of organizations like BuzzFeed that started out silly but are moving into traditional news content.
"You gain more eyes with all this stuff that people want to read because it's candy, and then, once you gain their readership and their following, you can give them the more healthy thing," Dreyfuss says. "Our most shared stuff is never the candy stuff, it's not the dessert. It actually ends up being some of the magazine stories, some of the things we're really proud of, as opposed to being silly things." And indeed, it was the extensive reporting that went into the magazine's Hobby Lobby package that broke their previous traffic record. Unlike the 47 percent story, the Hobby Lobby decision didn't have a scoop to rely on — every outlet in the country got the news at the same time. But the reporting investment Mother Jones had put in ahead of time paid off, and was assisted by the editorial team's enhanced social skills. Says Katz: "When the story broke, there were several stories posted in the 24 to 36 hours right after that, number one. Number two was, when people came to the site and they read one story on that page, it links to other stories we had done…which led to more traffic on the site. The third thing was putting on top of all this editorial work — we really were testing which kinds of stories, which kinds of headlines, would work best for a social media audience. There was one story in particular, "The 8 Best Lines From Ginsburg's Dissent on the Hobby Lobby Contraception Decision," that just went through the roof. People started sharing it like crazy." The increase in traffic at Mother Jones has been mirrored by increases in philanthropic giving and in ad sales, according to Katz. The magazine plans to further expand its staff, starting with the sales team — they might even venture into sponsored content, though Katz says that's "a tricky issue for Mother Jones." There's also a redesign underway that includes an ambitious overhaul of the CMS and backend, work that will be both complicated and expensive. Events are another possible growth area that Mother Jones' public affairs team is looking at for expansion. Dreyfuss acknowledges that it's risky to rely on one social network for the bulk of your traffic. "Assuming that the growth would be anywhere near what it's been is probably a faulty assumption, just because they make changes all the time," he says. But Mother Jones has a few natural advantages online. The content's political nature is guaranteed to have emotional reverberations on the Internet, though Dreyfuss says he tries to limit the outrage. In addition, the magazine's content makes for a natural identity play on social. "People really like to share things that demonstrate who they are as a person. One of the things we like to do is give them the opportunity to do that," says Dreyfuss. "You might not live in a state that legalizes gay marriage, but you are a person who supports gay marriage, and that's how they end up liking and sharing those things."
We don't spend a lot of time focusing on what happened to the American newspaper industry in the first decade-plus of this century — what's past is past! — but this piece by Joel Mathis in Philadelphia magazine is a useful visual reminder. They obtained an internal document from the company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News detailing the decline in the papers' financial state from 2000 to 2012. (One presumes the document comes from the financial data distributed to potential buyers of the papers in that last year.) You can go there to see the plummeting totals and get some more context. But I think you'll get the point with these two charts: (One gloss on that first chart: You might see the difference between "Print Ads" and "Total Ads" and assume the difference is online advertising. That's part of it, but the significantly larger part is preprint advertising — mostly the loose circulars that get packed in with the Sunday paper. Yeah, that's all printed too, but it's not included in the "Print Ads" segment above.)
Continuing its tradition of airing its internal discussions outside the office, the staff at Jezebel today called out the higher-ups at parent Gawker Media today over some pretty disgusting trolling at the site. Dealing with commenters of all stripes is a issue at many media companies, and foiling trolls is a constant problem. Online harassment has become sadly commonplace for female writers online, but at Jezebel things have gotten pretty egregious:
For months, an individual or individuals has been using anonymous, untraceable burner accounts to post gifs of violent pornography in the discussion section of stories on Jezebel. The images arrive in a barrage, and the only way to get rid of them from the website is if a staffer individually dismisses the comments and manually bans the commenter. But because IP addresses aren't recorded on burner accounts, literally nothing is stopping this individual or individuals from immediately signing up for another, and posting another wave of violent images (and then bragging about it on 4chan in conversations staffers here have followed, which we're not linking to here because fuck that garbage). This weekend, the user or users have escalated to gory images of bloody injuries emblazoned with the Jezebel logo. It's like playing whack-a-mole with a sociopathic Hydra.Banning and blocking is typically the last line of defense for staffers who have to deal with comments. This is where Kinja, Gawker's publishing and discussion platform, has a strength that is also a weakness: The system is built for — and in some cases encourages — anonymity. "Burner" accounts were envisioned as the next evolution of the tip line, a way of surfacing information from readers who don't want to leave a trace of identity. That feature seems to be what is causing the ongoing GIF abuse on Jezebel:
During the last staff meeting, when the subject was broached, we were told that there were no plans to enable the blocking of IP addresses, no plans to record IP addresses of burner accounts. Moderation tools are supposedly in development, but change is not coming fast enough.To say that Kinja is important to the future of Gawker would be an understatement. The publishing/discussion/tipster platform, or something like it, has been a white whale for Gawker founder Nick Denton.
Denton has said repeatedly that Kinja is a vehicle for putting readers (and their writing) on equal footing as writers. The most recent example of that being Disputations, which opens a window into the day-to-day conversations of Gawker staff. As recently as June, Gawker staff were still bringing up issues with Kinja, and Denton reportedly said he underestimated the time and resources it would take to build out the platform. Not surprisingly, this caught the attention of Groupthink, a Kinja blog spun off by Jezebel readers, who have been trying to find workarounds for the troll campaign. According to Business Insider, Gawker editorial director Joel Johnson acknowledged the problem, but said a solution isn't available just yet. Johnson told the site he's not sure the anonymity Kinja provides is the issue:
We want to make sure that all readers can submit tips anonymously; security and anonymity are import to our vision of Kinja. I don't know that this boils down to that exactly, so much as it boils down to my as-yet inability to figure out how to filter image-based posts without at least one human seeing them. (Other sites or apps use hired proxies to sort through those submissions, which also seems suboptimal.) Nevertheless, I agree with the Jezebel staff that I haven't done enough to figure out a solution to this problem (a problem I don't have to deal with on a daily basis, while they do) and I'm proud to work with people who aren't afraid to call out my mistakes in public.
Re: Jezebel. 1. They rule. 2. I've dropped the ball and they're right to call me out. 3. I don't have a solution yet but that's my problem. -- Joel Johnson (@joeljohnson) August 11, 2014
Will someone explain to me how social distribution of your content makes your company primarily a "tech company"? http://t.co/VIdylzTRrU -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
Elizabeth Spiers was the founding editor of Gawker, editor-in-chief of The New York Observer and Mediabistro, and a founder of Breaking Media. She's reliably smart about digital publishing, particularly its intersection with capital. (She was an equities analyst before heading to the web.) Here she's talking about BuzzFeed's infusion of funding from Andreessen Horowitz and some of the framing around it.
@IamStan Chris Dixon (one of their investors at A16z) calls it a tech company. In the article. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014"Chris Dixon, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who will join BuzzFeed’s board, said: 'We think of BuzzFeed as more of a technology company. They embrace Internet culture. Everything is first optimized for mobile and social channels.'" Dixon, also a very smart person, wrote up a blog post about it too:
We see BuzzFeed as a prime example of what we call a “full stack startup”. BuzzFeed is a media company in the same sense that Tesla is a car company, Uber is a taxi company, or Netflix is a streaming movie company. We believe we’re in the “deployment” phase of the internet. The foundation has been laid. Tech is now spreading through every industry and every part of the world. The most interesting tech companies aren’t trying to sell software to other companies. They are trying to reshape industries from top to bottom. BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management. Engineers are 1st class citizens. Everything is built for mobile devices from the outset. Internet native formats like lists, tweets, pins, animated GIFs, etc. are treated as equals to older formats like photos, videos, and long form essays. BuzzFeed takes the internet and computer science seriously.
@IamStan Not what he said to the Times. And if you think that a co that makes 75% of its rev from creative services is a tech co that's nuts -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
Also: In terms of how it generates revenue, BuzzFeed is primarily an agency. And the services industry is even less scalable than media. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@pkafka Yes! -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@benpopper Sure, but does BF exist without the content? No. Are people lining up to license the algos? No. It's a media & services company. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@richardrushfield They do, because institutional investors don't fund media, services. Doesn't mean it's true. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014(Rushfield was BuzzFeed's L.A. bureau chief, then wasn't.)
That Awful Moment When You Realize That Despite Sinking Millions Into Your CMS+Comments+Discovery Algos, You're Still A Media Company -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
.@laureltouby 1st thought was VC overhang=industry-wide pocket-burning=everything looks like a tech co But don't see any data to that effect -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@jamyn Yes, but at half the industry! -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
The New York Times' Mike Isaac was the first to report late Sunday night that BuzzFeed had raised $50 million in new venture funding from Andreessen Horowitz.
If nothing else, at least now we know why @pmarca posted all those tweetstorms about the potential future of media: http://t.co/bN4VzfL4RT -- Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) August 11, 2014The story was followed by a chorus of blog posts and press releases. Chris Dixon announced that he'd be joining the BuzzFeed board, writing that he sees the company as a "full-stack" technology operation. Later, BuzzFeed announced what that money would mean, namely more hiring, expanded international and video operations — plus entirely new products and, down the line, potentially new investments. The headline of The New York Times story — "50 Million New Reasons BuzzFeed Wants to Take Its Content Far Beyond Lists" — is somewhat ironic (not to mention predictable). While the investment may be new, BuzzFeed publishing non-list content is not. But some of the structural changes the company announced for its editorial teams will, execs hope, help make that clearer in the future. BuzzFeed is splitting its content producers into three buckets — Buzz or BuzzTeam for socially-oriented, experimental content; BuzzFeed News; and BuzzFeed Life, for lifestyle content like parenting tips, recipes, or how-to guides. Life, the newest category for BuzzFeed, has been grown out in large part due to the success BuzzFeed has had with lifestyle content on Pinterest. BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith says its current team of ten will be expanded by 25 additional hires. "Each of these three elements of editorial are going to be a lot more autonomous than they have been," says Smith. "We already have a focus on autonomy — small teams whose leaders have a lot of room to run inside these larger groups, and that's going to stay the same. I think it's just that we're bracing for another round of growth, and we want to make sure that our news operation is growing in a way that's totally focused on being a great news operation." (BuzzFeed is already working on a mobile app that will focus on news, not the other stuff.) Peggy Wang and Emily Fleischaker will run BuzzFeed Life, building on their respective focuses on the DIY and Food verticals, and Jack Shepherd will run BuzzTeam. ("What BuzzTeam does is fundamentally a creative enterprise, not a journalistic one," Smith told me. "What the news organization does is fundamentally about finding new news.") News will have a number of leaders, with Doree Shafrir focusing on entertainment and culture, Lisa Tozzi focusing on coordinating breaking news operations, and Shani O. Hilton working to develop global news standards for the company. Smith says he also has plans to continue building out the national desk in order to focus on major stories like immigration, race, and inequality. Some of the operational teams — like copy editors, the photo desk, and homepage managers — will work across Buzz, Life, and News. But for the most part, the new divisions have more to do with helping the audience understand what types of content BuzzFeed offers than they have to do with internal workflow. Smith tries to avoid using the word "vertical" when considering the various site sections the newsroom produces, preferring to think in terms of small teams who own their beats and find their audiences in the jumble of social media. But when it comes to website architecture, the new categories on the homepage — News, Life, Lists, Quizzes, and Video — are meant to help users find what they're looking for. "The point of the navigation bar is not to reflect the structure of your newsroom — it's to hopefully engage with people," says Smith. "That's really more about serving readers than it's about trying to map our internal structure onto our website."
It's not clear how this new structure will roll over into BuzzFeed International, though much of the excitement around the announcement has been directed at international hiring. Overall, BuzzFeed's global strategy is two-pronged, split between incubating local teams and doing original reporting for their core American audience, though there's fluidity between those roles when it comes to breaking news. For now, BuzzFeed's largest international desk is in London, where some of the staffers focus on local news and BuzzTeam content with a British flair, while others focus on supporting the world news desk in New York. It will be up to local teams to decide as they grow when making an organizational split between content types makes sense, but with only 30 staffers, Smith says it doesn't make sense in London just yet. The one thing that's certain, however, is that all content, regardless of language or dateline, will continue to live on BuzzFeed.com. "Readers don't want their own, smaller website — they want content that they like on our big website," Smith says. Another major piece of the funding announcement includes the foundation of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, an ambitious, L.A.-based operation to be headed by online video pioneer Ze Frank. Though The New York Times reported that Frank has plans to produce news video, Smith says neither of them is sure what the best use case is for news video on the web. "I think we're interested in doing news video when there are stories that are best told as video. But both Ze and I don't think that most news should be video or most video should be news," says Smith, who cites Vice's video reporting from Syria as the kind of reporting that is well served by the format. It's also unclear when BuzzFeed would be ready to produce feature-length films, though it was announced earlier today that Michael Shamberg, producer of _Spinal Tap_ and _Pulp Fiction_, was joining the BuzzFeed Motion Pictures team.
Another new but not necessarily newsy project for BuzzFeed is BuzzFeed Distributed, to be headed up by Summer Anne Burton. The idea is to produce original, BuzzFeed-branded content that will live natively on platforms like Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine, most of which will resemble BuzzTeam-type content to begin with, a model that is comparable to the work being done by NowThis. But Smith says Distributed is not a research team aimed at figuring out how to game new, as-yet-untapped platforms and thereby drive traffic to BuzzFeed.com. "The goal is to do great work that people love — it's a pure editorial project in that way," he says. "There are tons of ways to measure success, and traffic, because it's the most easily quantified, is one that people tend to focus on, but there are lots of different ways to measure success. Reaching a huge audience, getting lots of engagement, delighting people, and learning about platforms are all things that are valuable to us." In fact, one of the benefits of giving Life, Buzz, and News more autonomy — or, as Jonah Peretti puts it, running them like individual startups — is the opportunity to measure success based on their own unique metrics. "There are features, there are analytical tools, that matter to Lifestyle that don't make sense for News or BuzzTeam. There are different questions that they're asking analytically. There are different tools they might need," Smith says. For example, for a recipe to be useful to a reader, it has to turn out well and it has to taste good — but standards for news are different. "Did you get a law changed? How much trouble did you cause on Capitol Hill? Those are things that good [news] editors are always paying attention to," says Smith. Of course, you can't pay the bills — or your backers, as the case may be — based on how many legislators are mad at you. Easily quantifiable metrics may be frustrating and inaccurate, but so far they're what BuzzFeed has built a business on (though with the expansion of native content services in its marketing department, that could be changing). The benefit of venture backing is to be able to push for new products and rapid growth without having to worry too much about such issues — but nonetheless, developing a more meaningful barometer for success is something Smith says his team is working on. "We spend a ton of time thinking about why people share things and what kinds of things will they share. The same stories are very widely shared on Facebook and Twitter and email," he says. "We’re deliberately avoiding focusing on exactly what are the technical features that can give something a small boost on a given platform today."
Last December, we told you about the unusual paywall experiment being tried at Cincinnati's WCPO TV, a Scripps-owned TV station. Local broadcasters have generally resisted the paywall urge that's swept through their print peers; the idea that a station might decide to staff up its newsroom, put up a paywall, and bet it could outlast the local daily was a provocative one. It became even more provocative when Scripps turned itself from a diversified media company into a purely broadcast-and-digital outfit, shipping its papers off to Milwaukee and getting Journal Communications' stations in return. Ken Doctor gave a brief update on WCPO last week, but at NetNewsCheck, Michael Depp has a deeper report, emphasizing that the paywalled content isn't "local TV news’ holy trinity of crime, traffic, and weather," but closer to a newspaper's mix:
The [Cincinnati] Enquirer, also behind a paywall and the market’s comScore ratings leader in monthly unique visitors, is also feeling the target on its back. “They had the market to themselves in some respects on some of the coverage we’re trying to do,” [Dave Peterson, the GM for WCPO Digital] says. “I think they’ve stepped up their game in response to us.” Carolyn Washburn, the Enquirer’s VP and editor, admits as much. “They’ve made it pretty clear that they intend to go head to head with us,” she says. For the first time, for instance, she says the paper is finding competition on some beats where it once operated solo. “My city hall reporter has one more person covering it than before, so she’s going to pay attention to what that person is covering and be competitive with it,” she says. Washburn says for the first time in years, Cincinnati is feeling more like a two-newspaper town because of that dynamic. “Though generally I’m not losing any sleep over it,” she says, feeling that the paper is still besting WCPO with more reporters breaking news and providing more depth daily.(For the record, Cincinnati _was_ a two-newspaper town not that long ago — until 2007, when The Cincinnati Post shut down post-JOA.)
Students in Howard University journalism professor Yolanda McCutchen's intro to broadcast journalism class have, in the past, focused solely on learning to report, write, and produce segments for television. But when her students return to campus this month, they'll also be required to learn a new set of skills: producing video stories specifically for the web.
The added focus on web video is a direct result of McCutchen's participation this summer in a new program, Back in the Newsroom, run by the International Center for Journalists. It paired five journalism professors from historically black colleges and universities with news organizations across the country for fellowships in their newsrooms to refresh their approach to journalism while also working to improve newsroom diversity. McCutchen, who was a broadcast journalist before entering academia, spent her summer at The Washington Post. She was embedded with the Post's PostTV video staff for half her tenure at the paper, and it was there where she said she got a sense of how her students needed to be able to grasp the differences between traditional TV broadcast news and video specifically for the Internet. "I believe they need to do both because you never know where you're going to end up after graduation," McCutchen told me, adding that she now planned on also teaching her students mobile reporting techniques. "You need to be prepared. Even if you end up at a TV station, you could end up at the digital department."
@ICFJ #BackInTheNewsroom fellows visiting the @washingtonpost TV studios - thanks for the tour Tracy! pic.twitter.com/ZSjhho2Lcy -- Alana Morro (@a_morro) May 22, 2014
From the newsrooms' perspectives, by partnering with the journalism professors, they're helping ensure that potential new hires have the skills and training they're looking for. Along with promoting diversity, Back in the Newsroom also serves the paper's best interests by promoting more up-to-date journalism education, said Tracy Grant, the head of newsroom recruitment and development at the Post. "We need to have students being trained in the skill set we need them to have, and if you’re being taught by a professor who hasn’t been in a newsroom in five years, you might as well be taught by a dinosaur," she said. Along with the Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and CNBC also hosted professors. Many had been away from newsrooms for a number of years already or had never worked in a large multi-platform newsroom, and they said that working alongside journalists in those newsrooms allowed them to realize the skills their students would need to succeed and actually get jobs in journalism after graduating. "I will return to the classroom with the understanding that, if the ultimate goal is to educate and enhance the learning experience for students who want to be employed, in order for me to see decent placement numbers, we have to start teaching a little bit of the technology along with the core principles of journalism," said Hampton University professor B. DaVida Plummer, who spent her summer at CNBC.
@ICFJ hosting a digital lunch w guests from @CNBC @washingtonpost @latimes @USATODAY & @chronicle #BackInTheNewsroom pic.twitter.com/CvgBA546ud -- Alana Morro (@a_morro) May 22, 2014Back in the Newsroom was funded by a $183,000 grant from Knight Foundation (disclosure: Knight also supports Nieman Lab). John Bracken, Knight's director of journalism and media innovation, said it was too soon to determine whether the program will continue to be funded since ICFJ hasn't yet formally reported back to Knight about how it went. Still, ICFJ is hopeful that it'll be able to continue the program, said Elisa Tinsley, who ran the program for ICFJ. Most of the fellows and participating organizations spoke positively of the experience, offering suggestions for small tweaks like encouraging more collaboration and discussion between not only the fellows, but the newsrooms as well. This summer's fellows spent time at the beginning and end of the summer together for an orientation and then to debrief their experiences. They then spent nine weeks in their respective newsrooms. One other goal: to open up new pathways for students at historically black colleges and universities to reach some of the top newsrooms in the country. "They tend to go to the usual suspects for their interns and for their hires," Tinsley said. "And [the professors] are hoping that after this program the news organizations will come and recruit in person at their schools."
Attending A1 meeting @LATimes past of #BackInTheNewsroom @ICFJ pic.twitter.com/PyM83bk1tW -- Michael W. Douglas (@MichaelOnMedia) May 27, 2014Though the job market for all recent journalism or mass communications graduates is tough, fewer minority students are getting jobs right out of school, according to a study released last week by the University of Georgia. Just 55.1 percent of minority students with bachelor degrees who graduated in 2013 reported having a full-time job, the survey said — a drop from 60.3 percent the year before. Compare that to non-minority students, which remained steady from 2012, at 72.8% of respondents reporting employment. Los Angeles Times fellow Michael Douglas, a professor at Florida A&M University, said one of his main goals after the fellowship was to encourage FAMU students and recent alumni to apply for internships at the Times as well as to the Tribune Company's Metpro program, which is designed to attract minority journalists. Douglas said he's already planning a presentation to the rest of the FAMU journalism faculty to describe the Times' programs and to encourage them to seek out their top students to apply for the opportunities. He's already introduced some students to Tracy Boucher, the Times' director of news development, at the recent National Association for Black Journalists conference in Boston, which they both attended. "He brought me so many students to greet," Boucher said. "He made it his mission to reach out to other historically black colleges." "Here’s a great opportunity for them to apply," Douglas said, describing his plan to work with other faculty to reach out to FAMU students once they get back to campus in the fall. "Maybe we can get a solid 20 applicants to apply, and we can have that open portal that our better quality students, who are really into graphics or journalism or app development, can go places that they’ve probably never even thought about going." And beyond a potential job pipeline, the professors and newsrooms hope to continue their relationship in other ways. Howard, where McCutchen teaches, is located in Washington, so she said she's hopeful she'll be able to bring her students into the Post newsroom to see the PostTV studios and have Post editors come to campus to speak to her class. She also mentioned preliminary discussions ongoing to potentially publish some of her student's work covering the local D.C. community in conjunction with the Post. “That was one of the goals of the program overall, for us to come up with projects and ways to build up some long term relationships between the universities and the media outlets that we went to over the summer," McCutchen said. "They’re still in the proposal stage, and we’re still trying to work out the details, but hopefully we’ll be able to accomplish both of those.”
Photo of The Los Angeles Times' video set by Michael Douglas.
We have dueling visions of the print newspaper future from Michael Wolff and David Carr today:
I am, by a meaningful increment, more optimistic than Carr on the spin off age. Me: http://t.co/3hWNyF3xiZ. Carr: http://t.co/Ui1x5O68bl -- Michael Wolff (@MichaelWolffNYC) August 11, 2014Carr:
So whose fault is it? No one’s. Nothing is wrong in a fundamental sense: A free-market economy is moving to reallocate capital to its more productive uses, which happens all the time. Ask Kodak. Or Blockbuster. Or the makers of personal computers. Just because the product being manufactured is news in print does not make it sacrosanct or immune to the natural order. It’s a measure of the basic problem that many people haven’t cared or noticed as their hometown newspapers have reduced staffing, days of circulation, delivery and coverage. Will they notice or care when those newspapers go away altogether? I’m not optimistic about that.Wolff:
A reasonable business method might be to just pick one approach and bet on it. On the other hand, no newspaper or magazine has yet truly reinvented itself and unlocked the secret of future success. So perhaps it is best to keep all options open until a promising way appears. And, too, there is a natural desire not to throw away what has worked so well up until just a short time ago. This is not only because there are still vast numbers of readers and because many print businesses still make a good buck, but also to not be so cavalier about one's way of life and achievements.The recent shedding of print assets by previously diversified media companies is a perfectly fine hook for this sort of talk. But let's not forget that, other than a few public companies' desire to appease shareholders, nothing fundamental has shifted in the newspaper business over the past couple of weeks. The trend lines are maddeningly persistent. Meanwhile, in fantasy land, we have Rick MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's, saving his articles to 3.5″ floppies on "an ancient beige PC" and declaiming against the microchip and the damage done:
He described being trapped in a corridor in the early 2000s “by a small mob of what I can’t help but refer to as ‘young people.’” Those youths, he wrote, demanded that he open the magazine to online readers. What he told them was “essentially, forget it.” The web, to him, “wasn’t much more than a gigantic Xerox machine” designed to rob publishers and writers. [...] Mr. MacArthur, silver-haired and stylishly rumpled at 58, has an exasperated intensity. “I’ve got nothing against people getting on their weblogs, on the Internet and blowing off steam,” he said. “If they want to do that, that’s fine. But it doesn’t pass, in my opinion, for writing and journalism.” [...] His thesis is built on three pillars. The web is bad for writers, he said, who are too exhausted by the pace of an endless news cycle to write poised, reflective stories and who are paid peanuts if they do. It’s bad for publishers, who have lost advertising revenue to Google and Facebook and will never make enough from a free model to sustain great writing. And it’s bad for readers, who cannot absorb information well on devices that buzz, flash and generally distract.Whenever I talk to a group of college students, I like to ask them about The Atlantic — a brand with which they're all familiar, and whose work most of them have read online in the past, say, week. Then I ask them about Harper's. There's usually a confused silence — most haven't heard of it, and none have read it. When I was their age, in the early 1990s, Harper's and The Atlantic were peers: esteemed monthly magazines with a whiff of the Ivy League and a reputation for quality. Today, one of them is a thriving operation, bigger and better than ever. The other one is Harper's.
I think Rick MacArthur needs a brand new bag. http://t.co/kreBh8GsNQ -- Jake Silverstein (@jakesilverstein) August 11, 2014UPDATE: Add Jeff Jarvis as a fourth view, responding mostly to Carr:
But Brother Carr has renounced his vows right from inside the old scriptorium. Fucking Gutenberg. “Nothing is wrong in a fundamental sense,” he writes. “A free-market economy is moving to reallocate capital to its more productive uses, which happens all the time. Ask Kodak. Or Blockbuster. Or the makers of personal computers. Just because the product being manufactured is news in print does not make it sacrosanct or immune to the natural order.” Or how about asking Netflix? No, market forces are not an excuse for fatalism and ultimately suicide. Market forces are an opportunity for — forgive me, for I do know I’m getting carried away with this religion thing — resurrection. There is still time as no one has yet challenged all our old-media assumptions about content and print and reinvented journalism as what it should be.
It's no longer a secret that throwing events is a way for media companies to diversify their revenues and support their journalism. Companies of all sizes are now holding conferences, cruises, and festivals, ranging from The New York Times and The Atlantic to The Texas Tribune and The Des Moines Register. And in many cases there is money to be made: The Texas Tribune generated $1.13 million from events in 2013. calling the caterer or flipping through a Martha Stewart book on how to throw a successful party. The team at the American Press Institute has put together a guide rounding up event strategies from almost 20 media organizations. Just as the types of events can differ, so can the goals for hosting them. Making money is an obvious one. But as API points out, increased branding, community engagement, and generating stories are other motivations for media outlets. If you're in the events business, or considering getting into it, give the full guide a read. Here are four highlights: USE THE TOOLS YOU HAVE AROUND YOU Whenever you throw a party, you start by taking stock of the supplies you already have. That's true for news organizations as well, who should try to create events that can capitalize on their existing assets. For local media, API says some of those strengths include market penetration, brand recognition, and staff. Being able to communicate across platforms, be recognized by the community, and have people who can contribute put media companies at an immediate advantage in the events business, according to the guide. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE Events can serve the purpose of bringing together your most loyal and dedicated readers, but they can also act as a bridge to reaching new people, the report says. The key is to know the audience you're trying to reach and tailoring events to fit their interests. This is a lesson The Bakersfield Californian learned the hard way after scheduling a series of cooking schools with chef and food writer Martin Yan:
“It was a dismal flop,” said Wells. Numbers were significantly lower than projected, and for a variety of reasons — the chief of which was the target audience. Yan’s style of food didn’t match the preferences of most Bakersfield residents, who enjoy biscuits and gravy, BBQ and Hispanic dishes. The Bakersfield market “is what it is,” said Wells — it is not San Francisco. The cooking school also suffered from the Saturday afternoon schedule. “We’ve always held our cooking school on Tuesday evenings,” said Wells. The timing worked well for many families and the working class in Bakersfield. But the Saturday event had to compete with soccer games, charity events, yard work and more. “Way too much else was going on.”USE EVENTS AS A WAY TO PLAY OFFENSE Chattanooga Times Free Press have used events as a way of going on offense and prevent other groups or events from grabbing sponsorship money in their market:
Take, for example, Taylor and his staff’s defense against the Southern Women’s Show. Southern Shows, the organization that runs the event, is just one of many traveling event groups. Taylor and his team devised an event to combat it. The team put together an expo for women called “She.” By doing its own event for women — and doing a better job at it, Taylor would say — the Times Free Press gets to keep the small businesses’ money local. The town likes that. It also gets to keep the money in its own pockets. The publication likes that. The expo approach is replicable. Over the years, the format has become a standard for the Times Free Press — it has numerous targeted expo events for women, brides, kids, seniors, Christmas and more, practically anything that comes in trade show form.KEEP THE BUSINESS AND EDITORIAL SIDE SEPARATE As news organizations try to find new ways to diversify their revenue, the old question of separating church and state often comes into play. At The Texas Tribune, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas was a sponsor of a discussion on health care. April Hinkle, director of business development for the Tribune, told API the key is being transparent about sponsorships and keeping the business and editorial side separate. While Hinkle deals with the financials, Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Evan Smith deals with the content and selection of speakers.
At Digiday, Lucia Moses notes a new possible New York Times pricing tier:
The New York Times is considering a cheaper version of its digital subscription as it continues to look for ways to get more revenue out of consumers. According to a survey sent to readers this week, the new offering would give users 30 articles a month for $8, over 45 percent lower than the current cheapest offering. Now, for readers who hit the paywall at 10 articles, digital access starts at $15 a month for access to NYTimes.com and Times smartphone apps.Good on the Times for testing out new pricing strategies, and I wish them the best. What the Times does here will have a broader effect on the many other American newspapers who've launched paywalls and found their initial subscriber growth stall or reverse course. But I have to think if an underwhelming number of people are willing to pay for NYT Now — a very polished product with a lot of added value — this isn't going to be a revolutionary money maker for the paper. As always, the biggest leap in pricing is from free to 1 cent — the act of paying (and committing to future payment, in a subscription) is the bigger hurdle than $6 vs. $8 vs. $15. That said…unlike NYT Now, the cost of developing this new product should be relatively minimal, and maybe it makes sense to get whatever marginal dollars you can from the price sensitive. Apple has famously, even with a stripped down product strategy, sought to offer products at a variety of stair-stepped price points: Tim Cook once said he wanted to make sure "that we don't leave a price umbrella for people" — in this case meaning a market opening for non-Apple tablets that would be substantially cheaper than the iPad. But (a) the iPad's market share has been dropping substantially anyway. And (b) in the case of tablets, an expensive product is competing with a less expensive product. In online news, any paid product is competing with _free_.
While lots of U.S. media companies are still struggling to figure out how to make hyperlocal news financially viable, in the Netherlands, a four-year-old network of hyperlocal sites began turning a profit earlier this year. And now its corporate parent is turning to its traffic to help boost struggling newspapers.
Dichtbij is owned by Telegraaf Media Group, one of the largest media companies in the Netherlands, and it has 44 local sites throughout the country. (We first wrote about the Patch-like network back in 2012.) In its latest annual report, TMG reported that Dichtbij's revenue increased by €2.4 million ($3.2 million) in 2013, up 32 percent. Dichtbij brought in about €10 million ($13.5 million) last year, still slightly lower than expenditures, but the report cited "significant improvement in comparison to 2012." Dichtbij says it has about 4.5 million monthly visits to its sites. "The profitability really came through in the last quarter of last year, and we've been able to subsequently maintain that into 2014 — so we are profitable year-to-date right now," Dichtbij director David Beentjes told me. On July 1, TMG announced it was consolidating Dichtbij with its struggling local and regional newspaper publishers to create a new brand: Holland Media Combinatie. While the publications will remain editorially independent, more than 100 jobs were eliminated as TMG looks to cut costs and reduce redundancies. And TMG hopes the large audience for Dichtbij's content will draw readers to its paid daily and free weekly newspapers, in print and online. Dichtbij content is free online, while the other sites have paywalls, Klein said. "We want to use the massive traffic of Dichtbij as an anchor to lead the traffic to our newspapers in print, but also to our several websites," said Tim Klein, the director of HMC. Beentjes attributes a number of factors to the profitability at Dichtbij, which means "close by" in Dutch. Chief among them, a practice of signing multiyear contracts with advertisers that don't generate revenue until a few years into the deal — for instance, a "three-year contract that isn't revenue generating right away, but the revenue jumps up along the way when you deliver the value to the customer." At the start, Dichtbij was focused on just attracting as many advertisers as possible and signing them to long-term deals, so now, a few years later, many of those deals are starting to mature and generate more revenue, Beentjes said. Dichtbij has also trimmed its sales staff and it has instructed its sales staff to be more targeted in its pursuit of larger advertisers. Founded in 2010, Dichtbij has taken a less-than traditional approach toward advertising and revenue generation. There's native advertising, for instance: Advertisers can pay for stories written by certain Dichtbij editorial staffers who specialize in working with brands.
But as Dichtbij joins HMC, Klein said the company needed to make sure it kept its editorial brands separate. While Dichtbij and its weekly newspapers sell native, readers of the daily local newspapers are used to the separation between the editorial and advertising staffs. "If we start putting advertorials in the newspapers…we're going to lose subscribers. That's a risk, and that's why we find it highly important to separate it by content, free and independent in the original newspapers," he said. Aside from new business models, Dichtbij is also in the process of revamping its website and developing a tablet app. It released its first mobile app last year. Dichtbij has about 30 full-time editorial employees, Beentjes said. Since there are not full-time reporters for each site, staffers will sometimes manage more than one site if they are in neighboring areas. In addition to traditional news stories, the sites are heavily reliant on aggregated and user-generated content as well. "User-generated content is one of the most important sources of content for Dichtbij because otherwise we wouldn't be able to be profitable if we had to produce all that content ourselves," Beentjes said. While its full-time reporters will cover breaking news, Beentjes said Dichtbij relies most heavily on user-generated content on some of its section pages, like business or automotive. But Beentjes said he sees opportunities for growth in the various theme pages. They could be a place to feature content from other TMG properties, or even produce further branded content as Dichtbij could work with specific industries to produce relevant content. "We think we can really grow there as well, compared to now, and that brings along a lot of business models from industry-specific business," he said. "If, for instance, you have a health platform, and you have a theme around dental health…you can bring in two insurance companies that sponsor that platform for awhile, and they have the ability to bring forward a specialist who can do chat sessions with the local public when they have questions about their dental health, for instance. That's just one of the examples we're thinking of." Dichtbij also offers companies social media consulting services, where it will work with companies to develop and maintain their presences on social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook. It has separate staffers dedicated to manning the social accounts. Still, Beentjes recognizes that the market is changing, and he expects Dichtbij to continue to try and develop new business models, especially as it joins forces with the other TMG properties. "The traditional display market is not really growing anymore in revenue, so we have to develop new ones," Beentjes said.
Photo by John Morgan used under a Creative Commons license.
When a military coup in Thailand blacked out international media outlets, the BBC was faced with a choice. Without BBC World News on the air, they would have to set up a temporary website to deliver news to people in Thailand or get creative with social media. On July 10, they launched a new version of the BBC Thai service as a Facebook-only news operation. The thinking, explained in a blog post over at the BBC College of Journalism, is that the social network brought the largest potential audience. Thailand has 96 million mobile subscriptions, and 26 million Facebook users, with 23 million of those coming through a mobile device, writes David Cuen, social media editor for the BBC World Service.
Using Facebook as a publishing system is a relatively cheap alternative for any news organization, though it comes at the expense of using a platform owned by someone else that you don't control. And as we've seen recently, Facebook has the power to send millions of eyeballs to news, or just as easily take them away. Earlier this year, the BBC experimented with using messaging services like Mxit, WhatsApp, and WeChat to deliver news in mobile-heavy markets like South Africa and India. This is the first time the BBC has created a news service based on a social media platform. According to Cuen, the BBC sees the site as three-month pilot. Once the project was approved, producers from BBC Thai underwent training and the site was set up in relatively short order:
The editorial offer was set to provide local, regional and international news in audio, video and text, always optimised for the mobile market. The content is published in Thai and English. We then decided to use Facebook Notes as our content management system (CMS) or publishing tool, in order to be able to write stories that could live in a place where users could consume them at their leisure — and not only through regular Facebook posts. On Audioboo we created a channel for BBC Thai where we upload audio clips and interviews that are produced on a regular basis and then connect them to Facebook.According to Cuen, since launching the Facebook feed, they've accumulated 100,000 fans, reached more than 5 million people, and garnered more than 450,000 interactions.
A new report from Pew Research and Elon University tries to tackle the role of algorithms, digital agents, robots, and the like in the job market of 2025. (It's part of a series of reports from Pew looking at the future of the Internet.) Rather than your standard data-rich Pew report, this one is about asking various experts about what they think the future will hold:
This report is a compilation of opinions and predictions shared by nearly 1,900 respondents about the evolution of emerging networked technologies and their likely impact on daily life. The experts responded to the following question: _THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF ROBOTIC ADVANCES AND AI — Self-driving cars, intelligent digital agents that can act for you, and robots are advancing rapidly. Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?_ “THE RESULTS WERE AN EVEN SPLIT, WITH 52 PERCENT ENVISIONING A FUTURE IN WHICH ROBOTS AND DIGITAL AGENTS DO NOT DISPLACE MORE JOBS THAN THEY CREATE AND 48 PERCENT SAYING THEY WILL DISPLACE SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS OF BOTH BLUE- AND WHITE-COLLAR WORKERS,” said Aaron Smith, a senior researcher with Pew and co-author of the report. “A number of the respondents warned that this aspect of technical evolution will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable and the possibility of breakdowns in the social order.”What about media jobs? They don't get a ton of attention in the report, but there's this from Ben Shneiderman, professor of computer science at the University of Maryland:
Robots and AI make compelling stories for journalists, but they are a false vision of the major economic changes. Journalists lost their jobs because of changes to advertising, professors are threatened by MOOCs, and store salespeople are losing jobs to Internet sales people. Improved user interfaces, electronic delivery (videos, music, etc.), and more self-reliant customers reduce job needs. At the same time someone is building new websites, managing corporate social media plans, creating new products, etc. Improved user interfaces, novel services, and fresh ideas will create more jobs.
"The newsonomics of splitting up media companies, with Gannett maybe next"). Or, had it only announced its acquisition of Cars.com, buying out its partners for $1.8 billion, that might have be seen as expected, and perhaps even at the lower end of the anticipated price ("The newsonomics of Cars.com"). Combine the two announcements, though, and you can position it as a digitally propelled company of the future being born along with a newspaper company that can chart its own future. That's blockbuster spin, and it even contains some truth. Curiously, the timing of the combined announcement looks like it was done on the fly. The new "Gannett" is unnamed at birth, and may have been premature.
Let's do a quick assessment of what we can see in Tuesday's moves, especially in light of the other recent action, as Tribune Publishing takes on official life this week, and E.W. Scripps and Journal Communications merge and split at the same time. 1. THIS ISN'T A MATTER OF "FOCUS." These splits are about financial engineering. As public companies, their primary duty is indeed to maximize shareholder value. Newspaper properties are depressed and distressed, and the public markets have less and less interest in them. So sequestering the print assets to "unlock the value" of broadcast and digital just makes financial sense. That said, if you are the new Tribune Publishing's Jack Griffin, or the new Gannett's Bob Dickey, or the new News Corp's Robert Thomson, or the new Journal Media's Tim Stautberg, you can use the shiny newness of your company as a motivator. It's the Rocky underdog speech to the troops. That — combined with smart strategies — might provide a better future. 2. BUT THERE'S A WILD CARD. Though the driving purpose of the split is financial, an unintended (or maybe, in some cases, _secondarily_ intended) consequence of them is that the new CEOs leading these companies can indeed "focus." After all, they don't have their sights obscured by profits rolling in from non-newspaper concerns. They can stare down the future of news publishing, digital and in print. That will be a good thing. It's hard to call, in mid 2014, _which_ of the new CEOs will rise to the occasion and best innovate within the constraints of the day — but new thinking is welcome. 3. THE NUMBERS TELL THE STORY OF WHY. For Gannett, we're seeing 60 percent of its profits driven by broadcast — and that's before full consolidation-with-Belo synergies kick in — even though broadcast contributes just 30 percent of overall revenues. The mismatch in revenues and profits is the simplest way to understand why, financially, the splits had to happen. Then there's this simple fact: Gannett Publishing hasn't grown publishing revenues in any year since 2006. It's not much different from its peers in that regard. But that failure to grow — combined with the inability to name the future year when it would grow — is the driver of these splits. 4. THIS ISN'T JUST ABOUT PUBLIC SPLITS. IT'S ALSO ABOUT PRIVATIZATION. Publishers have recognized clearly over the last decade that running a publicly owned newspaper company didn't track with the times. Shareholders want returns, and those are meager. The newspaper/digital transition still has another good five to 10 years; it's no easy place for those having to report quarterly earnings. Consequently, running directly parallel to all the splitting of news companies has been the privatization of some the largest and best newspaper companies in the U.S. Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, John Henry The Boston Globe, and Glen Taylor the Star Tribune. The new owners offer capital — and time to transition. They don't have to answer to shareholders and next quarter's returns. Both trends — splits and privatization — chart the future, with the best private owners seeming to offer a better resourced lifeline. 5. THE CARS.COM GLIDE LOOKS SENSIBLE. We know that Cars.com, owned by a single company, the new as-yet-unnamed digital/broadcast Gannett, will drive more and more of its sales nationally. It will rely, as the digital classifieds companies have done, less and less on newspaper affiliates to sell its products; national sales produce better margins. So both Tribune (selling its 27.8 percent), McClatchy (selling its 25.5 percent) and Belo (selling its 3.3 percent) took Gannett's money, but they also negotiated a five-year glide, being able to sell digital ad packages to local dealers (though at what will be higher "wholesale" cost). That tempers a potential loss of digital auto ad revenue in the next few years — an absolute key to trying to keep their heads above water. Without the glide, their digital ad revenue could easily go negative, and they need no more negatives. Can McClatchy claim to be a digitally focused company and still sell its Cars.com share? Sure, it can. It's moving forward in precarious balance, and the $406 million after taxes it will get will relieve a major debt burden. It won't erase McClatchy's debt, but makes a big dent in it. It can reduce annual debt service payments, have a little room to make digital acquisitions, and just breathe a little easier. That's a trade-off that makes a good deal of sense. 6. WHERE DID I LEAVE MY CUSHION? You couldn't draw a _direct_ line between old News Corp's _Avatar_ success and its middle-of-the-recession investment in The Wall Street Journal, but the connection was clear. Broadcast and digital assets — now separated at almost all the companies (_private_ Hearst owns both, as does smaller chain Schurz) — allowed newspaper companies to be squeezed a little less than they could have been. Yes, even with the loss of 30 percent of U.S. newsroom jobs in seven years, it could have been worse — and unfortunately _could_ still be going forward. All the newspaper companies have cut, but some more than others, and one reason has been profits from other businesses could prop up, subsidize, or make up for print shortfalls. That cushion is now deflated. 7. WHAT'S THE FRESH START LOOK LIKE? notable exceptions), these companies are getting debt-free, or close to debt-free starts. Pension obligations, at least for Journal Media and Tribune, are staying with broadcast company; that's a big positive. Cash is the big differentiator. The new News Corp got a big cushion, $2 billion. Tribune got $50 million and Journal Media is getting $10 million. Billions go a lot farther than millions. Millions buy months of transition; billions buy years. 8. WHAT'S THE TEST OF THE NEW COMPANIES? That's two-fold. First, how can they continue to manage the ongoing print ad decline as gracefully as possible? Fact: The main driver of profits (still in the 5 to 10 percent range) for news companies has been cost-cutting. That can be done for years, but not decades. At some point, you cut so much that your products lose their commercial viability for advertisers and readers. Second, how can they turn around two revenue streams? Reader revenue — flagging at Gannett and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, for instance — needs to be put on a steady growth trajectory. That's about the magic formulas of product and pricing, and the wizardry out there is uneven. Then in ad revenue, the push for marketing services and content marketing needs to move from experimental to full throttle. Easy to say, hard to do. 9. WHAT'S THE NEXT COMPANY SHOE TO DROP? With Gannett's announcement, there aren't many newspaper/broadcast assets left to split apart. But the newspaper landscape is so unsettled that we could see unorthodox new combinations. It's hard to believe we'll see any kind of national scale rollup of local dailies — there's little rationale to do in an industry still spiraling downward — but we will see more regional clustering and unexpected buys. New Media Investment Group/GateHouse, Halifax Media, and Berkshire Hathaway have all been buying here and there, but largely staying away from metros, the most troubled of all dailies. Then, there's the 2015-16 sales scenario for Tribune newspapers. And on any given day, plenty of publishers are willing to take a buyer's call. 10. IS IT 1995 AGAIN? As a friend emailed me today, "Where is this 'back to the future' set of publicly traded newspaper companies headed? Roll up by a digital company? Bankruptcy and die? Consolidation to further cut costs? Seriously, is this 2014, because if I check the stock tables I'd swear it's 1995!" It's true that public newspaper share prices had recovered from their post-recession bottoms, and largely risen with, or even ahead of the overall stock market's growth. Gannett hit a high of $90.42 on April 8, 2004, a bottom of $2.14 on March 20, 2010. Tuesday, it closed at $33.87, down 1.3 percent (presumably attributable more to the cash it expended buying out its Cars.com partners than to the split itself). To my friend's point, the newspaper world seems caught in an unending cycle of woe. That may tell us that, as important as intelligence is in finding a way forward, stamina might be the most important commodity.
Photo of Gannett logo on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange by AP/Richard Drew.
Roger McKinney first heard the story on NPR. Students in public schools, many with physical or mental disabilities, were physically restrained or isolated more than 267,000 times across the country during the 2011-12 academic year, according to federal data. "More than half the time, that meant adults held or pinned the child, and in 7,600 cases, a device was used, like a belt or handcuffs," NPR reporter Joseph Shapiro said on air. "And the numbers are almost certainly higher. Many of the nation's largest school districts reported no use of seclusion or restraint." That report, published by NPR in conjunction with ProPublica struck a chord with McKinney, the K-12 education reporter at the Columbia Tribune in Columbia, Missouri. Using ProPublica's data, which it published for free on its website, McKinney localized the story by focusing on the local school districts in and around Columbia.
Incidents of student restraint more common in some area schools than others - #Columbia Daily Tribune http://t.co/nCd3RUwQjo -- Roger McKinney (@rmckinney9) July 1, 2014"From time to time, ProPublica does stories that would apply to local stories," McKinney said. "And if [they] have already done the legwork, that makes it easier for us, because we don’t often have time to do investigative stories like that." In conjunction with its original story and the data, ProPublica published a "reporting recipe," a step-by-step guide for other reporters to use the data and write their own stories on restraints in schools. As part of the reporting recipe, ProPublica is connecting interested journalists with potential sources who could provide anecdotes of schools restraining students. Though he sought help from ProPublica via email and Twitter to decipher the data, McKinney didn't use a ProPublica-generated anecdote. Still, more than 60 people willing to share stories of school restraints have come forward to ProPublica, and they are working to connect those individuals with 31 reporters who have shown interest in the project. "Our goal is not to generate as many pageviews as possible for our story — our goal is to get this issue out there and ultimately to try and have some impact, to try and influence a debate around this," said Eric Umansky, ProPublica's assistant managing editor. "The best way to do that is not to do one story on your own — kind of like one and done…it’s to provide other news organizations the tools so that they can write their own stories." data store to try and monetize some of the data sets it obtains. But this isn't the first time ProPublica has created a reporting recipe or tried to connect other journalists with sources. disciplinary action against nurses. It also in 2010 worked to connect reporters with sources for stories on the federal mortgage modification program. In each case, there's an implicit deal: ProPublica has the resources, skill, and time to assemble data on a national scale. Local journalists have the audience that could benefit from what that data says. Together, they can have a bigger impact — something key to ProPublica, whose mission drives it to "spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing." With distinct local anecdotes, those stories worked well for this collaborative approach to reporting. Local reporters like McKinney can tailor the data sets and stories to their own audiences. Heather Vogell, the reporter covering the restraint issue for ProPublica, said there were a few followup stories she wanted to write after her initial piece was published in June, but she realized that other local reporters might be able to better tell those stories. Though ProPublica is still keeping some information for itself to write additional stories, their approach to reporting collaboratively with other outlets was a change for Vogell, who was hired by ProPublica in February after spending nine years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It was a mental shift from when you’re in a competitive environment, and you’re hiding away your bits and pieces of knowledge like a squirrel burying it, and hoping that nobody else finds it before you finish the reporting — to kind of wanting to pass the acorns out to as many people as you can, to try and get some momentum for the story, and sort of watching everything organically develop beyond that," she said. In the past, ProPublica had assembled these reporting aids in bits and pieces, but as Vogell began reporting the story on reporting restraints, Umansky thought this story would fit well with ProPublica's localizing approach. To that end, ProPublica decided to publish the reporting recipe in conjunction with the solicitations for sources and additional reporters.
"It just occurred to me that this is another opportunity where we could do something like this. And rather than be ad hoc about it, I thought we could bake it into the process from the get go," Umansky said. "And so the way we thought about it was that we want to encourage other people to report on it, so how can we make it as easy as possible for them to do that, and what are all the varying things that could be useful for them to do that?" Because ProPublica co-published the first story with NPR, it allowed NPR member stations access to the data and drafts of the story before it was published. Some NBC-owned local stations also got an advanced look, Umansky said. Though some journalists (like McKinney) found the restraint story on their own, ProPublica wanted to ensure that potential sources and other journalists knew about its reporting in order to solicit contributions. ProPublica's engagement editor, Amanda Zamora, undertook an aggressive plan to find sources through various social channels. ProPublica published a form on its website for submissions, but Zamora focused on who was sharing Vogell's initial story on Facebook and reached out to different groups there to try and solicit additional submissions. "It’s getting easier to find communities around issues on Facebook, but it can still be difficult to gain access to groups and pages where you aren’t already active," Zamora told me in an email. "So I used SproutSocial to track pages sharing links to Heather's story, and used those posts as jumping off points to invite readers to share tips. In one case, an advocate saw my reply and offered to post it more prominently to his page which is geared for people who care about special needs children." Zamora also had some success approaching moderators of appropriate subreddits — but much of the outreach work was done over email. "A lot of the networking that we do is by email — literally matching reporters with tips and documents, following up with them as they have questions, and hoping that the stories work out," Zamora wrote. "We have at least two that I know are actively being reported out now."
Photo of a cookbook by John used under a Creative Commons license.
Not too many months ago, Paul Bass gave serious thought to shutting down the New Haven Independent, the online-only nonprofit news site he founded in 2005. “A while back, I considered whether I still had the energy to keep going,” Bass said. “I was burnt.” He decided to keep it alive. And now he’s getting ready to relaunch with two new full-time staff reporters — one who will start the day after Labor Day, the other who has yet to be hired. For a small community news organization, the Independent has been remarkably stable. Last week, Bass threw a going-away party for managing editor Melissa Bailey, who will be a Nieman Fellow starting this fall, and staff writer Thomas MacMillan, who is moving to New York to seek his fame and fortune. Both began working at the site as it was ramping up, Bailey in 2006 and MacMillan the following year. (The fourth staff member, Allan Appel, recently cut back to a part-time position.) Several hundred people gathered in and outside the Woodland Café, near the New Haven Green, to say goodbye to Bailey and MacMillan. Their photography was on display, accompanied by QR codes that smartphone users could access to take them to the stories where those photos first appeared. Copies of Bailey’s just-published book on education reform in New Haven, _School Reform City: Voices from an American Experiment_, were on sale, along with Appel’s novel _The Midland Kid: Tales of the Presidential Ghostwriter._ Mayors past (John DeStefano) and present (Toni Harp) were on hand, as were a number of other community leaders. “It’s really hard for me to imagine leaving New Haven for more than a few days, let alone a whole year,” Bailey told the crowd. MacMillan defined the privilege of being a journalist: “You ask questions and people just open up to you and give you these amazing stories.” When I met with Bass afterwards, he talked about how difficult it would be to replace the two. “They’re community journalists. They love the work. They grew so much,” he said. “They both learned so many things, and they really ran the operation with me." Yet their departure will allow him to solve a longstanding problem: having an all-white staff cover a city where African-Americans and Latinos are in the majority. “The people I’m hiring will diversify the staff racially,” Bass told me. The Independent has used minority freelancers and interns, but all of its full-time staff journalists have been white.
The reboot of the Independent comes at a crucial time. The regional daily paper, the New Haven Register, has gone through several rounds of cuts in recent months — including one announced just last week — as its owner, Digital First Media, prepares for a widely predicted sell-off. In a few years, Digital First has gone from a closely watched experiment in reinvention to just another sad tale of chain journalism gone wrong. Thus the Independent’s mix of political and neighborhood news, education reporting, and, increasingly, a focus on the arts fills a real need. Despite the challenges of keeping a nonprofit going, Bass has had quite a bit of success with fundraising. Currently, he said, he has pledges through 2015 to cover the $420,000 budget for the Independent and a satellite two-person site in the northwest suburbs called the Valley Independent Sentinel. In recent years, he added, his fundraising base has shifted from about 75 percent foundation grants to about 25 percent. Most of the money comes from high-net-worth donors in the New Haven area. About $15,000 to $20,000 comes from small donors.
Late in 2013, Bass applied for a low-power FM license to operate a nonprofit community radio station in New Haven. He has yet to hear from the FCC, but he continues to hope it will come through. “I think we’d engage the readership in a new way,” he said. For now, though, he’s planning to do something he’s never done before: ramp down the Independent for a few weeks. Posting will be minimal this week and next. And he’s going to stop posting completely during the last two weeks of August — a first since the Independent began publication in late August of 2005. Then comes the new Independent. “I’m not going to have the same experience level I have now, so it’s going to be different,” Bass said. “I don’t think I can replace Thomas and Melissa.”
Dan Kennedy is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on Beat the Press, a weekly media program on WGBH-TV Boston. His blog, Media Nation, is online at dankennedy.net. His most recent book, _The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age_ (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), tracks the rise of the New Haven Independent and other online community news projects.
Photo of Melissa Bailey, Thomas MacMillan, Paul Bass and Norma Rodriguez-Reyes (board chair of the Online Journalism Project, the Independent's publisher of record) by Dan Kennedy.
Just before making an announcement last week, the Investigative News Network’s Adam Schweigert tweeted:
Learning the hard way that it's better to never give anything away for free, creates way too many false incentives. — Adam Schweigert (@aschweig) July 31, 2014INN gives a lot away for free: Schweigert's team offers web hosting and tech support to dozens of nonprofit local news websites, all on the back of Largo, their open-source WordPress framework. But now INN's hoping for something in return, which is why Schweigert is starting a consulting service inside INN that aims to provide custom tech solutions to both members and non-members — with the latter subsidizing the former. (INN is primarily funded by foundation grants.) Schweigert explains the motivation for starting the service in a blog post:
It's hard for us to help every member individually and there are many member (and non-member) organizations who would like us to do more and have expressed the willingness to pay for our services.A skeptic might ask whether INN will continue to offer the same level of free service to its members, but Schweigert says they'll maintain "a reasonable amount of support" at no cost. Members will have to pony up for "more assistance," which is understandably vague coming from a team that doesn't quite know what they're getting into yet. But a consulting developer from INN will be a relative steal for member news orgs at $50 an hour — below cost for INN. They plan to subsidize this rate by asking for-profit institutions for $150 an hour. (Non-member nonprofits can expect $85 an hour.)
Largo — a WordPress backend built on NPR's open-sourced Project Argo — offers a number of customization options, but Schweigert says most of their members still want a little more tweaking. In addition, non-members — like ex-Patch employees striking out on their own — also frequently contact them for help with Largo. INN previously directed these requests to outside contractors. With the consulting service, anyone can get a developer at a reasonable rate who understands the product they're customizing. So rather than hiring in-house, or outsourcing completely, INN clients will have a solution that lies somewhere in between. Schweigert envisions the consulting operation as a "co-op" model. For example, one INN developer might split, say, 10 hours per month on each of a handful of member sites, or support a site for a specific project while improving INN's open-source tools during downtime. He also imagines INN developers playing a role in higher-level tech decisions for their members, as well as providing training modules, documentation, and support infrastructure. In addition, Schweigert hopes the team will get to work on data-oriented and multimedia story production, parachuting in for special one-off projects and microsites. INN’s paid consulting strategy comes on the heels of a sleeker redesign for Largo, which debuted on the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's WisconsinWatch.org in late June. Elements of the redesign hint at INN's desire to service a greater diversity of organizations. There's a fixed top bar with a red "Donate" button, but that doesn't mean this framework is only useful to nonprofit publishers. The old Largo provided text-heavy “blog,” “newspaper,” and “carousel" layout options; the new Largo’s out-of-the-box templates are more image-centric and mobile-friendly. Schweigert says that the design goal was to "call more attention to the big story." Since many INN members only publish a few big stories a month, the Largo revamp envisions the homepage as more like a magazine cover than a newspaper homepage. This style, he notes, could be useful for any number of small- to medium-sized publishers. (So far, Wisconsin Watch is the only member running on the new version of Largo.) The biggest variable in the execution of the new service is INN's tech bandwidth. INN powers over 30 sites with a very small team, leaving them little time for member-specific requests. They hope that "even a nominal fee" will help them expand their capabilities — indeed, they're currently looking to add a third full-time designer/developer to their handful of interns, fellows, and contractors. Even so, there's a potential that they'll end up long on work and short on staff, which is why the training component is crucial. Without it, Schweigert says, "we can't scale this. We would be answering emails all day."
Project Argo, meet Project Largo: Open source code finds new use in the sites of nonprofit news orgs
To that end, INN recently launched the INN Toolbox, maintained by Denise Malan. The site lets members find and share tools they've built, which track everything from campaign finance spending to weather patterns. Serving the dual purpose of resource and platform, the toolbox points to the "co-op" feel that Schweigert envisions, allowing members to help one another and gain a sense of what everyone is working on — not to mention showcase their work to the public and potential funders. In the short term, Schweigert says the focus is on doing paid work for members. Though the structure of the service is more fragile without non-member revenue, it can exist either way. If demand from non-members becomes overwhelming, Schweigert says he would consider hiring subcontractors, but he's not interested in agreeing to projects "just for the sake of taking work," as many consultants might. When we spoke to Schweigert last year, he suggested that the Largo project was asking “What should nonprofit investigative news organizations look like on the web?” Now it seems that Largo has bigger ambitions, looking beyond design for nonprofit investigative news to a diversity of clients.
"We're getting toward the end of the finish line," Jack Griffin tells me as he sits in a car whooshing to an appearance. At that point, last week, he'd spent seven of the past 10 days doing an equity road show, touting his new Tribune Publishing, which begins trading tomorrow. "Monday, we split the company. Tuesday, we start trading. On Wednesday, I have a Tribune board meeting, and then on Thursday, my first town hall at the Chicago Tribune. Then, I head to L.A. Then, I'll spend the next three weeks on the road visiting Tribune cities."
Griffin's tour and return to a high-profile, high-digital-opportunity CEO position is a redemption. Highly successful in building Meredith's ad businesses, he got tripped up in taking on the top job at Time Inc. in 2010. Time Inc. wasn't ready for Griffin's change plans, and the insular company rejected the transplant; he left five months later. Now Griffin takes over a separate Tribune just months after Joe Ripp has taken over the new Time Inc., itself just separated from the mothership of a diversified media company. The challenges they face are increasingly shared by new CEOs of standalone newspaper-based companies — a group that was joined last week by Scripps' Tim Stautberg, as he takes on leadership of the new newspaper-based Journal Media. On his stops in Tribune cities like Hartford, Baltimore, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale, Griffin will run into a lot of familiar faces, and insiders say he's got a knack for connecting those faces with names and useful ideas. He's been a key strategist in the recent Tribune restructuring as a consultant, working through his Empirical Media company. He's already met many of the company's leaders, and had a hand in picking some. Now they want to know his vision. Today's split concludes one odyssey and and launches another. The hell of Sam Zell's tenure has receded, but it has marked Tribune newspapers for the long term. From 2007, with his suspect leveraging of employee stock ownership program laws to finance a purchase of the company, to a bankruptcy filed one scant year later, to four years of bankruptcy itself, Tribune's newspapers, TV operations, and decreasing workforce all suffered. The company has held together in some places — especially dual flagships Chicago and Los Angeles — better than others, but the loss of news standing and community service throughout the country is palpable. It's easy to be tired of this story, which through bankruptcy has seemed endless. But Tribune remains among the top five newspaper-based companies in the U.S., and the only chain heavily based in big metro areas. Its future, and how it forms that future, is important to millions of people in those cities, and its testing of new models is important to the industry. It's also easy to dismiss this next Tribune as just one more step preceding another sale. That will likely happen — but it's hard to know _when_. Tribune's controlling owners are financial companies, with no particular appetite for long-term operation of a media company. However, the tax-free nature of the spinoff, detailed below, throws up shorter-term hurdles to selling. In the meantime, whether that's measured in long months or short years, the performance and model testing done by Jack Griffin's re-energized crew (and new board) is what we need to watch into 2015. Of course, Tribune isn't alone there. The carnage across the U.S. newspaper landscape is widespread. It's just that Tribune's decline has been so _theatrical_. Now, with Tribune Publishing finally spun off (from a company now to be known as Tribune Media, home of the broadcast and digital businesses) we can all move on to the next act. On day one of Tribune Publishing, let's look at five key questions about the new company. WILL TRIBUNE PUBLISHING SELL ITSELF? set the world and Twitter on fire. The financial companies, who now control 40 percent of Tribune's stock, never formally put the company on the market, though there was much anticipation that it would do so. Why did what seemed like a likely go-to-market not happen? Chalk it up to two factors. One, there was what we can call Koch anxiety, stoked by political protests with potential implications for those owners' core businesses. Second, Tribune's tax strategists figured out a way forward that provides its owners first with a tax-free separation of assets. In addition, if and when, Tribune Publishing is sold, the company won't incur significant taxes on its gain. There's a rub, of course. One reason it's taken Tribune about a year to complete its separation of TV/digital and print assets is the tax complication. The company is controlled by its three former senior debt holders, though it is publicly traded, via the pink sheets. The "private letter" it received from the Internal Revenue Service in April includes a few hitches to selling the newspapers: * Its three major owners — Oaktree Capital Management (22 percent interest), Angelo, Gordon & Co., and JPMorgan Chase (each with 9 percent) — are constrained in offering their shares on the public markets for six months. The 40 percent of the company that they collectively own must be held for 180 days to maintain the tax-free nature of the spin, the IRS says. * Any potential buyers who had conversations with Tribune or its agents before the split can't buy a majority stake of the company, without tripping up those important tax-free features of the split. So who might that preclude from buying up some of the 60 percent publicly traded float of the company in the next six months, or some of the controlling companies' shares after their own six-month lock-up ends? We don't know, but Tribune's attorneys do. It's not public information. We won't get into potential buyers here; there's plenty of time for that. There will be the perennial Rupert question. The News Corp Chairman recently tweeted about his inability to bid for Tribune given FCC cross-ownership rules. It's unlikely that Murdoch could get the waivers he would need from the current FCC board. The next presidential election, though, is two years' away, and the party in the White House controls a majority of the board. So, as we get into 2017, all bets are off on the FCC complexion. Murdoch is used to play a waiting game, and as we can see from Tribune's own uncertain six- to 24-month timeline, he could re-enter the sweepstakes at some point. WILL TRIBUNE PUBLISHING BUY NEWSPAPERS? Griffin caught some eyes last week when he told Crain's Lynne Marek: "We think there are more of these opportunities around the country that are geographically adjacent to where we run big papers and big brands, and that over time we can achieve similar kinds of consolidation and acquisition opportunities that are going to add meaningfully to our footprint and our revenue and our profit." Tribune being a buyer, of course, would seem to stand the Tribune-for-sale story on its head. But it doesn't, really; both can be true over time. In the short term, there are lots of buying opportunities out there. Tribune itself bought Annapolis-area properties, 45 minutes from its Baltimore Sun, in May. Clustering of print properties within metro areas is nothing new; the Sun, just as one metro paper, has been doing that for 20 years. Now in this time of great print consolidation — the amount of print ad money in metro areas is shrinking markedly, but is still large overall — clustering takes on a new potential. More sellers see this as a time to get out, and companies with reorganized, centralized print/digital publishing businesses can see the cost efficiencies of adding new readers and new products — as long as the price pencils out. Tribune has only about $50 million in cash, but it has access to as much as several hundred million more in financing. Further, it carries none of the newsroom employee pension obligations; those remain with Tribune Media.
It does have the ability to put cash into small acquisitions, and is looking in the news tech space as well as at clustering opportunities. In some markets, like that of volatile L.A., it's ironic that Tribune's Los Angeles Times may be a relative rock of stability come Tuesday. Digital First Media's Los Angeles News Group will be on the market soon, with numerous overlapping properties of uneven value. South and east, Aaron Kushner's new Freedom has rolled up the Riverside Press-Enterprise and administered all manner of editorial and business electroshock in and around its core Orange County Register. Given the financial pressures on Kushner, we could see his properties, in whole or in part, become part of the SoCal rollup I've long said is inevitable. HOW WILL TRIBUNE GROW? Tribune will double down on the key chapters from dailies' latest playbook. That means goosing reader revenue and greatly expanding the nature of products offered advertisers. All eight of Tribune's main papers have paywalls, but they vary among hard, metered, and in-between. Tribune will put a fairly uniform subscriber/membership program in place at all by early next year, in hopes of optimizing pricing. I talked with Griffin about the cracks in the paywall strategies we're now seeing, as some companies, Gannett included, have gone negative in circulation revenue. He talked about some companies whose "price increases had been too big" and said he thought "mid-single digit increases" were the sweet spot, "as long as you [continue] to deliver more value." That tension between pricing up and retaining enough print volume will be key to Tribune Publishing's first year. "The newsonomics of selling Main Street"), are squarely in his wheelhouse. He is credited with being a thought leader who convinced an old-line magazine company, Meredith, to invest in both almost 20 years ago. Now, the latest iteration of that effort, Meredith Xcelerated Marketing remains a model for publishers trying to get into the game. So branded content is rolling out as a new ad product offering for the company, staffed out of Chicago and L.A. The initiative produces text, photography, and video for advertisers. Tribune 435, the Chicago Tribune's marketing services effort first innovated by now executive vice president of digital Bill Adee, is similar to marketing services efforts like GateHouse's Propel, Hearst's Local Edge, and Digital First Media's Ad Taxi. Each of the Tribune newspapers will operate a Tribune 435-like business, with local branding. Those kinds of services are logical extensions of the old space-selling local ad business. It's a long-term business, though, and one that builds more slowly than cash-needy publishers would like. Another issue, of course, is that everyone is seeing this new opportunity with small and medium local businesses; competitors are coming from all sides. Tribune is also pushing on a new area, syndication. It claimed the half of the McClatchy Tribune Wire Service that it didn't own last year, and has merged it into the Tribune Content Agency. That wire pumps out lots of content from Tribune's own papers and a pipeline of others — though some of those papers have pulled their content streams, concerned about channel conflict, and more may do so. Where will Tribune Content Agency growth come from? "It's going to come from print and digital," says Griffin. "Right now, we're English-only and we've starting to work on translations. We just entered into a significant agreement with one of the big web portals where they are paying us in seven figures." Given that overall revenues are still falling at roughly a 3 to 4 percent rate, the challenge here is clear. It's not to simply innovate — it's to innovate _at scale_. That's what a Tribune Publishing turnaround demands. WILL THERE BE MORE NEWSROOM CUTS? See "growth" above. The inconvenient truth: The only way that Tribune and its peers have managed to maintain profitability over the past seven years to cut and cut some more. Consider that Tribune's publishing arm has reduced operating costs by about $250 million since 2011; a recent report projects another $65 million in expense cuts this year. And now it has to pay debt on a dividend to Tribune Media and its own dividend to shareholders, further complicating its finances ("The newsonomics of Tribune's print orphanage"). Without growing revenues, cuts remain a fundamental strategy. Some CEOs have been smarter with the scalpel than others, but all have cut newsroom jobs to some degree. Tribune's cuts outside Chicago and L.A. have been deeper, and there is a profound question of how much more all-access reader revenue can be yielded out of products that have been cut too deeply. Griffin understands that issue; how he balances that quality/profit question in the 2015 budget will be an early indicator of his strategy. WHAT'S TRIBUNE PUBLISHING WORTH, COME TUESDAY? As it goes on the market, that market value is a big question. One financial analyst recently pegged it at an ambitious $635 million; that number constitutes about 10 percent of the combined company's worth pre-split. Why is that a tad high? Within bankruptcy, about two years ago, Lazard valued the newspaper side of the business at $623 million. In the two years since, the Tribune publishing operations have shed a lot of revenue. One comparison of its operating income: For the first quarter of 2014, it was $38.66 million down 17 percent year-over-year from 2013 Q1's $46.39 million. More decisively, the newspaper side assets have been shorn, stripped of the real estate under and near them and of their stakes in the more profitable digital classifieds businesses; Tribune Publishing has to lease back its offices, part of that larger new lease on publishing life. We can figure that about half of Lazard's 2012 estimate was tied to those digital profits and the papers' real estate. How much the company is really worth is, for now, academic, given its the short-term strictures on selling it — but that number is worth keeping in mind going forward.
merger and split last week may have seemed like a bolt out of the blue, but it's a bolt that makes sense in the new cosmic order of local media ("Diversified media companies are hurrying to undiversify"). In fact, this game of Local Media Split 'Em is all but done — with one big U.S. exception, its largest daily publisher, Gannett. case of Time Warner/Time Inc., dividing their print assets from their broadcast, cable, and/or digital ones.
Today, Tribune joins the crowd, becoming a standalone newspaper-based company, Tribune Publishing. Add Tribune to the list of companies that once had both print and broadcast under a single ownership: News Corp, The New York Times Co., the Washington Post Co., Media General, Belo, Time Warner, Scripps, and Journal Communications, among others. Gannett is now alone among the big newspaper companies; there are a few smaller chains still owning both newspapers and TV, like Schurz Communications. Even with all the growth of its broadcast business (most recently through the acquisition of Belo's stations), it's still a company that is defined, at least in part, by its newspaper roots. Investors have had a long love affair with the stock, at least compared to its newspaper company peers. But Gannett's newspapers are a drag on its earnings. Its Q2 publishing results affirm that things aren't getting much better — down 3.7 percent year-over-year in revenues overall, 5.1 percent in print ad revenues — and that fueled a little speculation that Gannett may be preparing to sell some of its 81 daily newspapers, a speculation fueled by CEO Gracia Martore's reply to an analyst. Those words may now seem even more minor in the wake of the Scripps/Journal deal. Martore will increasingly be faced with the question: Why _wouldn't_ you split off the broadcast and digital businesses from flagging print? Newspapers now produce 70 percent of Gannett revenues, but broadcast produces 60 percent of the profits. Those lines continue to diverge, making the mismatch clear from a financial point of view. The standard three-word explanation for all these splits is the desire to "maximize shareholder value." Media company CEOs split companies because it usually works. The newly established TV-plus businesses often assume the entire value, or close to it, of the old "combined" company. The standalone newspaper company value may be relatively small, but now it's icing on the re-frosted cake. Investors like the clarity; in part, it's optics. More importantly, it's the projectability of future cash flow. Broadcast, struggling as it may be with digital disruption, offers a more reliably forecastable future than print. Supreme Court decisions have helped to do that. The Supreme Court's Aereo decision removed a threat to its growing retransmission fees boon. And the Court's steady peel-back of campaign finance limits promises increasing political advertising — and that advertising has always fallen disproportionately to broadcast. In a release on the merger/split, Scripps made the point that its TV group, now the country's fifth largest, will have a presence in eight key election battlegrounds: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin. (Story/video with the two companies' leaders speaking to the deal, here.) The new broadcast-centric E.W. Scripps and new print-centric Journal Media offer our latest case. Scripps' history is worth knowing. It wasn't a Johnny-come-lately into the TV business, as many newspaper companies were. It bought it first TV station — WEWS, as in E.W. Scripps — back in black-and-white 1947. It then smartly invested in the nascent cable business in 1993. Then, in 2008, the split began. Scripps Networks Interactive — now HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, Great American Country — took life as a separate company, with the company's highest-flying assets. That left both local newspaper and local TV together in one company, at just about the same time that A.H. Belo split its own broadcast assets from its newspaper ones. (Belo's own trajectory is likewise instructive. It sold Belo TV to Gannett last year for $1.5 billion, and it has sold its non-Texas papers in Providence and Riverside over the past year. It's back to being a local newspaper company.) Now, in 2014, the splits are complete, with broadcast going standalone — and retaining the E.W. Scripps name. Is it a matter of focus? Scripps observers will tell you that pre-split, much executive time was focused on those fast-growing cable properties, giving less attention to newspapers and TV. Then after Scripps Networks Interactive went off on its own, TV seemed to be getting more attention than the struggling newspapers. There's a lot to learn in that seeming allocation of attention.
E.W. Scripps CEO Rich Boehne is a former newspaper reporter, but he believes that local TV is best positioned to be the last man standing in local news. Why? Big reach, a big marketing bullhorn, and a more solid legacy cash flow. So Boehne's been investing in local broadcast. Significantly, part of that is in news and journalism. At year's end, I wrote about his contrarian digital/TV news play in Cincinnati ("The newsonomics of Scripps' TV paywall and the Last Man Standing Theory of local media"). WCPO now sports more than 30 new news staffers, bringing its total to more than 100. "There has been this idea that newspapers ought to play hard and heavy in digital, and we have always subscribed to the belief that it didn't matter what your traditional platform, newspaper or TV, that the future of local media will be in digital," Adam Symson, Scripps chief digital officer, told me in the wake of the deal. Symson, a TV veteran, is staying with the new broadcast Scripps. "We weren't resigned to let newspapers own the B2C relationships with the consumer. Television has the opportunity to play offense while newspapers are still playing defense." In its half-year of Cincinnati experimentation, WCPO is doing a lot of testing and learning. Its pay plans are membership-oriented, running $79.99 a year or $7.99 a month, with a penny for the first month. The company isn't releasing any subscriber numbers, but Symson says it is "on plan." That "insiders" membership proposition is being fleshed out with unique-to-Cincinnati commercial offers to the high-minded goal of helping locals "lead a much more fulfilled life here in Cincinnati, with a passion and sense of play." WCPO's coverage of the local craft-brewing boom is one example of that. Connection is the key — and that goes beyond the traditional local media relationship: "Journalism content is the center of this relationship, but we never expected or wanted to leave consumers with the sense that this was a retail transaction. You give us money, and we give you journalistic content." That means efforts at community connections of several kinds, including physical events, as well as more knowing coverage, some of which is provided by local bloggers. It further incorporates the innovative Newsy video news service, which it bought last year ("Newsy's Mobile + Video + Social + Curation Model Stands Out"). Symson is looking at the "hard marketing launch" of WCPO this fall, after taking in many data-driven lessons from its first half-year. We can then see the direct connection to what the new expanded Scripps can apply — and not apply — to all its TV markets out of the WCPO experiment. Can Boehne prove out a model of a paywalled local broadcaster as the ultimate survivor in the local media wars? His canvas just got bigger, post merger: The new Scripps will reach about 18 percent of U.S. television households in 27 markets. Further, it won't have to concern itself with FCC cross-ownership rules that limit newspaper/TV combinations in cities. Also, significantly, the new broadcast company remains Scripps family-controlled. The new newspaper company Journal Media, which will be headquartered in the city of its biggest property, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, won't be family controlled. (From the release: Scripps shareholders will own 69 percent of the combined broadcasting company and 59 percent of the newly formed Journal Media Group. Journal Communications shareholders will own 31 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of Scripps and Journal Media Group. Scripps shareholders also will receive a $60 million special cash dividend as part of the deal.) The company starts clean. No debt and the newspaper pension obligations are staying with Scripps. At split, it even gets $10 million. That's a nice chunk, but a rounding error of a rounding error if compared to the dowry afforded by Rupert Murdoch when he separated out News Corp from 21st Century Fox last summer: _$2 billion_. New Journal Media CEO Tim Stautberg comes into the job from his post as Scripps' senior vice president for newspapers. He led the consolidation and centralization of Scripps' systems and processes. His challenge is like that of Jack Griffin, as he formally takes over the new Tribune today, and the head of every other newspaper-based company: How to grow revenues. At its last report, for Q1, Scripps was down "only" 1 percent in publishing, largely on the circulation revenue increase of 6 percent. Ad revenues were down 5.4 percent; digital ads were down 5.6 percent. The Journal publishing results Stautberg inherits (the deal should close in early 2015) were worse: revenue down 2.7 percent, with circulation revenue down a troubling 5.7 percent. The separation of these newspaper assets — and their future fortunes — gives new meaning to the word standalone. Standing alone means operating without a safety net that steadier broadcast revenues have recently provided. One thing that Tim Stautberg won't be talking a lot about is "synergy." Like all the CEOs of the new standalone print-based companies, the age of talking up the value of owning TV and newspaper assets in the same company is all but over. CEOs loved to talk about those synergies, but in two decades, we have seen few examples of synergistic working together between the pictures people and the ink-stained wretches. "Video" is on everyone's lips — there's still more ad demand than supply, and that supply can fetch as $30 CPM rates for _local_ companies. But video, like all else, will be pursued _separately_.
Photo by Ian Sane used under a Creative Commons license.
The Telegraph experienced a traffic boom in June, according to The Guardian's Mark Sweney. Telegraph Media Group editor-in-chief Jason Seiken points to strategies like headline testing and rapid turn around on new products to explain this success. For example, Project Babb, a standalone soccer site that relies on a "formula of irreverence and quirkiness" drew 1 million views in its first seven weeks. But the real bulk of the Telegraph's growth has come from Facebook, says Seiken:
The Telegraph Media Group editor-in-chief said an emphasis on carefully promoting stories with Facebook’s more youth-oriented audience in mind has started to pay off, with the social network easily outstripping Twitter as a traffic driver. The surge in Facebook traffic referral in turn fuelled a bumper month of growth in June. Seiken said traffic from Facebook to Telegraph.co.uk grew 61% month on month in June.To achieve this growth, the Telegraph shifted its energy away from sharing on Twitter, incorporated more data analysis into the newsroom workflow, and decided to focus on writing social headlines. But Seiken pushes back against suggestions that the Telegraph is relying on clickbait to bring in new audience:
“We are never going to win being BuzzFeed,” he said. “If I were going the route of BuzzFeed – aiming purely for traffic growth – it would be fairly easy to double Telegraph traffic overnight by going down the click bait and sensationalism path. I’m not saying that in a derogatory way. But that’s not the Telegraph. If you value your journalism, feel like you are creating journalism that has a value, that is worth paying for and that audiences will pay for because it is differentiated from the rest, then the meter is the way to go.”UPDATE: For more information on the traffic that Facebook drives to news sites, check out Chartbeat's post on what happened during the Facebook outage last week, during which news sites saw three percent less traffic overall. A summary:
In short, then: our brief world without Facebook looked a bit different, albeit in predictable ways. Significantly less news was consumed on phones, slightly more homepages were visited on desktops, and 30 minutes later, when Facebook came back online, traffic returned to normal.