Thursday, December 31, 2009
Steve Outing: Goodbye, for Now? But Looking Forward Back in 1995, Editor & Publisher invited me to start writing a freelance column for its brand-new Web site, initially called MediaInfo.com. Nearly 15 years later, this will likely be my last column for E&P -- and I'd like to project on what digital possibilities could have been for newspapers, and how it's not too late for them to put things right.
By Steve Outing
NEW YORK (December 29, 2009) -- Back in 1995, Editor & Publisher invited me to start writing a freelance column for its brand-new Web site, initially called MediaInfo.com. An ex-newspaper journalist, I had become an early "expert" on the intersection of online services and the World Wide Web with the newspaper industry, and I began covering interactive media for the bible of the newspaper industry. Nearly 15 years later, this is (most likely) my last column, if E&P -- the magazine and the Web site -- disappears from view. Back when I started, I couldn't possibly have guessed that: 1. I'd continue to write this column for that long. 2. The newspaper industry would fail to benefit from the Internet, and bequeath opportunities to eager entrepreneurs who did capitalize, big time, at the expense of newspapers. A confession As much as I have loved newspapers, since the Web came along in late 1993, it hasn't been the paper, per se, that I loved -- but rather the type of journalism that newspaper companies were able to produce. While far from perfect, newspapers were able to afford the big editorial staffs, which other media forms could not, to cover their communities well and (often) uncover mistakes, corruption and wrongdoing by government and business. In fact, in the mid-1990s I really expected that by 2009 there to be a lot less “paper” moving around. I hoped that would be the case, actually, since the trees felled and all the trucks spewing pollution throughout the process of getting newspapers onto millions of home driveways each day has long struck me as environmentally damaging and ultimately unsustainable. Back then, had you asked me to project 15 years ahead, I would have suggested that newspaper print editions would get overtaken in usage by online and digital replacements, and that primarily the older generations would still be reading on paper. Actually, that's why I chose the name of this column, "Stop The Presses!", back in 1995. It felt right, both hearkening to the past and foretelling the future. My E&P editors in 1995 were savvy enough to get the joke, and overlook the possibility that some E&P readers might take offense at what my column's name implied. Back to the present, I've decided to end this column with two lists: 1. How things should have gone for the newspaper industry. 2. Since they didn't go that way, what to expect next. The 20/20 hindsight fantasy scenario If Quentin Tarantino can produce a fantasy revisionist-history blockbuster like "Inglourious Basterds," about a band of Jews killing Adolph Hitler and the Nazi leadership, then I can script how the newspaper industry's previous 15 years should have played out. 1. In 1994-95, newspaper executives recognize that the Web is something with the potential to rock their world, and increase R&D budgets significantly in order to plan for and begin building new businesses based on fast-developing new technology. Knight Ridder (now defunct) does not shut down its pioneering Information Design Laboratory (1992-95) in Boulder, Colorado, and transitions into a corporation that goes on to build successful Internet businesses that complement its core newspaper publishing business. 2. Learning from media history (e.g., TV started out as radio with a video image of the announcer speaking into a microphone), newspaper leaders decide not to repeat it this time around. They direct new-media R&D staff to design new online services that create original content and new utilities -- things that are not possible in print but are online. Print journalism is still leveraged online, of course, but it does not dominate the new-media team's thinking or mission. 3. Fat and happy with enviable profit margins, newspaper companies' leaders take note of the wave of Internet start-up companies in the late 1990s. Business development executives with technology experience are brought in from outside the newspaper industry to identify the most promising trends and start-up companies, and begin making acquisitions and/or significant investments, in a big way. Newspapers may be fiscally fat and happy, but their leaders want more, see opportunity, and they have the money to invest in complementary Internet businesses. 4. Some of these investments and acquisitions take off, and newspaper companies have on their hands complementary businesses that will grow to dominate their sectors. Newspaper executives take a mostly hands-off approach, leaving evolution of the acquisitions to technologists who have their eyes on media's future. 5. Even though these new digital acquisitions seemingly (through late-1990s news-leader eyes) have little to do with the uber-profitable business of publishing newspapers, the acquisitions are marketed (at little or no cost) aggressively in the newspapers. Newspaper executives, educated and persuaded by the technologists they've brought on board, foresee the day when their new acquisitions will out-earn print revenues. 6. Newspaper executives and editors early on grasp the essential difference between print publishing and the Internet: one-to-many only, vs. one-to-one (plus one-to-many). This epiphany, experienced early on, permits industry investments and acquisitions into new businesses that leverage the ability for people to communicate with each other online; newspaper companies end up being part of what eventually becomes the social networking industry. Journalists are educated on interaction with the audience as a result of their employers entering this new space, and that begins the cultural transition of the newsroom toward an interactive relationship with readers rather than the lecture model. 7. As the Internet bust of 2000 hits, newspaper executives begin to doubt their strategy, but their portfolio includes some Internet companies that ride out the temporary slump. As the Internet bounces back, newspapers recognize the wave heading back up and resume their digital-expansion strategies. 8. In the mid-2000s, the era of cheap money, newspaper executives see the tremendous growth of the best Internet companies and resist inclinations to consolidate and acquire other newspaper companies. Instead, they up the game of complementary acquisitions and investments in the digital and burgeoning mobile spaces. 9. As reader and advertiser behavior changes, newspaper companies accept the fact that their newspaper operations will produce less profit and soon will need to either cut staff or subsidize newsrooms from more profitable new businesses. Because of their foresight, they are able to maintain high editorial quality while making the transition to a digital-centric model for their core news business. 10. The late-2000s recession is ridden out by newspaper companies because they have diversified and grabbed the digital opportunities as they arose early on. There's still room to invest and focus on the next big media opportunity: mobile content and services. Ahh, that sounds so simple. If only someone had created a time machine in the mid-1990s, then comic-strip artists and late-night comics wouldn't be making fun of newspapers as today's buggy-whip makers. What's next Since the newspaper industry in general took the wrong path, let's get back to reality. Here's what we're likely to see in the next few years as a result of how newspaper leaders chose to respond to disruptive technology. 1. Small-town independent newspapers don't grow much, but they are able to continue with healthy print circulation for several more years. But eventually, they start hurting more, like their metro cousins, as local advertisers shift more and more money to cheaper, more effective digital advertising opportunities. 2. Urban metro papers continue to shrink. More papers stop publishing in print on some days of the week; others go to Sunday-only for print and online/mobile for the rest of week; and a few go entirely digital. Unfortunately, we see some more newspapers die. 3. The wave of small news start-ups -- non-profits, hyper-local for- and non-profits, placebloggers who've figured out how to make a living, combo professional- and citizen-reporting digital news services, university-affiliated news entities, etc. -- that we see emerging today grows rapidly. Journalists laid off or bought out by newspapers start many of these services, aided by new companies that help them on the advertising, business and technology sides (e.g., GrowthSpur ), and new local digital ad networks serving all local media, new and old. 4. Some of these small entities partner with local newspapers, gaining for themselves revenue to support their mission, while giving the newspapers quality content much cheaper than the papers could produce it themselves. This is especially the case with costly and time-intensive investigative journalism, where local non-profit public-interest news sites (a la VoiceofSanDiego ) partially support themselves with money from "old media." 5. News aggregators (Google News, et al) and personal digital agents (e.g., Circulate, but more likely to come from the likes of Google or Facebook) become the norm for consumers getting their customized news streams on their computers, mobile phones, e-readers, and other devices. As a result, newspaper Web sites become less important. Newspaper publishers and editors learn, in order to survive, how to get their content into all the appropriate streams. And they develop ways to monetize content as it flees the home pond (Web site) for the many new streams (aggregators, agents, social news streams, etc.). Those that don't, die. 6. The saber-rattling over pay walls at newspaper Web sites will die down as Google, which many newspaper executives seem to perceive as the No. 1 cause of their woes, accommodates their concerns and introduces more technology that helps news producers turn digital dimes into quarters (or more). Paid content by newspapers is supported by new systems, but it's a small amount of the content they produce. 7. Newspaper companies that do survive and prosper do so by devoting significant resources (at executive and technical levels) to mobile as the next platform of opportunity. They don't repeat the mistakes of a decade earlier made with the Web, but instead raise mobile to a top priority. 8. Newspapers that do well adapt quickly to the instant nature of crowd-sourced news (e.g., aggregating and filtering eyewitness reports from Twitter), rather than fight it. 9. Some newspaper companies survive the journey across the chasm between the old print-centric model and a new digital model. These are most likely the companies whose board of directors install new leadership not chained to the success of past business models. Among the survivors, we're more likely to see repeats of National Public Radio's digital transition, where a new CEO (Vivian Schiller) was hired because of her digital experience, mindset and vision, even though she had less of that for radio. 10. I continue to write about the future of news on my personal blog, but don't emphasize newspapers so much. Bye, for now I'm looking forward to re-reading this column in about five years, to see if I'm on target or missed widely. Meanwhile, you'll find me focusing on a new project, the Digital Media Test Kitchen at the University of Colorado at Boulder, hosted by the School of Journalism & Mass Communication. Watch my blog and you'll soon see that launched. To everyone who's read this column over the years, whether routinely or occasionally, thank you for taking some of your valuable time to listen to my ideas, and respond and interact with me. To everyone I've talked with or interviewed over the years, thank you for educating me on innovation in news and sharing your knowledge and vision. --30--
Monday, December 21, 2009
'Tis the season to be sage-like, even if you can't be jolly. As 2009 closes and 2010 awakens, researchers both looked back at what we did and made educated guesses at would we might see.
Gosh, I thought so - The U.S. Census Bureau counted its numbers and came to the conclusion that newspaper revenue went down -- in 2008. The mid-December federal report only tracks economic statistics for the previous year. And that's bad enough -- the industry's revenues dropped 8.3% to $43.9 billion. A year ago the "bad" news as a 2.7% decline, which most publishers would welcome today.
There is alway more to Census Bureau reports than the headlines, however. For instance, the second biggest drop from the publishing sector was in greeting cards (7%). That probably is less a sign that Hallmark has lost its humor than another indicator of the Internet's impact. Speaking of which, Web search portals were up 18.9%, which was actually bad news for an industry that jumped 38.1% in 2006 and 25.1% in 2007. It may also be some consolation that the search portals generated about $29 billion less than newspapers did in 2008. Likewise, ad revenue for online publishers was only $4.6 billion. That was a 22.5 increase, but not like the 44% jump in 2006 nor the 27.9% increase in 2007.
We're all thumbs -- The Census Bureau also released its latest Statistical Abstract of the United States, packed as usual with trivia such as the number of students who carry guns to school (6% in 2007) and the health of the restaurant business ($453 billion and rising). My eye, however, was caught by the report that mobile phone texting more than doubled in 2008, the last year for which statistics were available. Simple text-messages (not Web browsing or e-mail) went from 48 billion in 2007 to 110 billion in 2008. That confirms the survey I am just now analyzing that shows text messaging increases as you adopt a more sophisticated phone. I had predicted the opposite. I'm paying a lot more attention to the value of text message alerts these days.
Oldies but goodies -- Two news activities made the Top 10 Internet activities among the 65+ crowd in 2008, according to Nielsen. Don't scoff -- 13% of the entire population is at least 65 years old and the number of seniors using the Web rose 55% over the past five years.
The top activity for seniors was e-mail, followed by maps, weather, their bills and all those photos of grandkids. But reading the general news online was No. 6 and reading business or financial news was No. 10. Like surprises? Facebook was the third most popular Internet destination for seniors, only topped by Google Search and Windows Media Player. More? Seniors are within 1/10 of a point from teens in the proportion of people who visit blogs and social networking sites.
The November Nielsen report should be a wake-up call to online editors and others who look at the Web and only think "young." Here's a huge, affluent and well-read market that is eager for useful information, loves to connect with others and puts news above YouTube. Gray hair sounds better than red ink.
Facebook or nothing -- As popular as it seems to be with senior citizens, the social network born in a Harvard dorm hit an important tipping point in 2009 with its original target audience. Anderson Analytics said Facebook is now not only the most popular social network service among the college-aged, but may be the only one that counts. Students polled in the 2009-2010 GenX2Z American College Student Survey overwhelmingly rated Facebook as "cool" (82% of males and 90% of females) and everything else as "lame." The lamest of the lame (31%) was mighty MySpace.
But the curious flip side to the Facebook finding was that 18-25 year olds are using all blogs and discussion boards less. Blog activity was down 5% among college students and use of discussion boards was down 8%.
For now, the findings bode poorly for publishers hoping to establish local social networking sites. But, as the researchers noted, rapid technology changes make accurate predictions impossible. I think it might be worth looking east, however, to the mobile social networking sites booming in Europe. Networks such as Loopt, Aka Aki, MobiLuck and Peperonity allow you to read the profiles of others within a few yards (make that meters) of you. If that's not a cyber party, what is? (Check this video to see what I mean).
Smart phone war? -- Enough of what was, what can we expect in 2010? How about a heated battle between the companies that want to put our news on their little hand-held computers? In 2009, Apple's iPhone stole the show, even though RIM had a lot more Blackberries out there. Google's Android is in the limelight for 2010. When comScore asked smartphone shoppers which type of phone they might buy in the next three months, 20% said iPhones but 17% chose the newcomer. It helps that Android is available on a variety of phones from all the major cell phone service providers, while the iPhone is both Apple and AT&T exclusive. ComScore's research also showed that Android owners use their phones almost identically to iPhone owners, except the Apple crowd fires off more e-mail.
The Great Nielsoni -- The top crystal ball award for December has to go to Nielsen, which released a big packet of Future Trends in Media. The summary is that 2010 will be a consumer's market for digital media on three screens - TV, PC and mobile. Nielsen said to watch for the number of TVs to exceed the number of people in the U.S. while close to half of all video is watched on a computer screen. On the mobile front, 3G networks will grow and 4G (about as fast as broadband) will make a noticeable introduction.
Five key trends -- The Nielsen seers said to watch for five trends that will have major impact on the media business over the next three to five years. All TV content will be available on any type of screen. The "net neutrality" court battle over whether Internet service providers can control what flows through their digital pipes could dramatically change the online world. With the next wave of more powerful phones, the researchers said, it will be common for people to not only receive information wherever they happen to be, but to share it with others. In the same vein, tiered pricing may make those who download data-intensive content pay more than simple e-mailers. Interactive TV could take even more time out of the American day than the addictive tube does now. Finally, the hardware will dazzle -- combining gaming, TV, computer and who knows what else into a device that looks something like a TV.
It really is their world -- In 2010 and beyond, Nielsen said, the Web will be driven by the audience rather than the content providers. Advertisers will be metrics-crazy and marketers will combine all sorts of media to reach a fickle audience. Research will be king -- the more you know about the audience, the better chance you have of keeping a piece of the pie.
The privacy eye -- That last trend -- getting the goods on the audience -- is bound to keep both researchers and reporters busy in the foreseeable future. How deep should a company dig into a customer's life, even if they asked for the "service?" Do journalists dig into the same data? And who keeps track of what the government is doing with the numbers? It's going to be an interesting 2010.
Ready for the mobile world? That's OK, few of us are. That's why I'm trying to assemble a list of mobile editors at newspapers. We are trying to put together a spring brainstorming gathering at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. If you know an editor charged with delivering the news via cell, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Veteran biz journalists will head up the new digital publication The Fiscal Times, which will have offices in NYC and DC. Its mighty new slogan is "The Source for all things fiscal."
It will cover the increasingly busy intersection of economic issues and public policy, and will used content sharing and independently produced articles and opinion pieces. Content will include profiles on key government players to in-depth looks at federal spending programs. Its first content-sharing agreement is with The Washington Post, and other deals to be announced.
Blackstone chairman, Peter Peterson, is initially funding the venture. The veteran journos on board are editor in chief, Jackie Leo, formerly of Reader's Digest; and longtime Washington Post editor/reporter Eric Pianin, who'll be Washington editor.
Its journalists will work from offices in New York and at the National Press Building in D.C. Here's the full list of business journalists:
Editor-in-Chief Jackie Leo, former editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest and Editorial Director of Consumer Reports
Washington Editor Eric Pianin, a former editor and budget reporter at the Washington Post
Ann Reilly Dowd, former Washington Bureau chief for Fortune and Money magazines
David Ewing Duncan, a journalist, television producer and author who has written widely on health care and science
Merrill Goozner, a health care blogger and former Asia correspondent and chief financial writer for the Chicago Tribune
Katherine Reynolds Lewis, former Bloomberg News and Newhouse News Service financial reporter
Dan Morgan, former Washington Post investigative and congressional reporter and author
Elaine Povich, a former congressional and budget reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Newsday
The Fiscal Times Advisory Board
An Advisory Committee consisting of leading professional journalists and public policy experts will monitor the operations of The Fiscal Times and periodically meet with editors and executives to assess performance and progress in meeting its goals and standards.
Robert D. Reischauer, President of the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office
Jodie T. Allen, senior editor of the Pew Research Center, former managing editor and political columnist for U.S. News & World Report, and editor of the Washington Post Sunday "Outlook" section
Drew Altman, President and CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
Jim Brady, President, Digital Strategy, Allbritton Communications and former Executive Editor of washingtonpost.com
G. William Hoagland, CIGNA Corporation's Public Policy Group director and former policy and budget adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and staff director of the Senate Budget Committee
Thursday, December 10, 2009
After Editor & Publisher, announced today that they are ceasing publication, and journalists everywhere filled the Twitter airwaves with comments.
Some saw the demise of the 125-year-old magazine, which has served as the chronicle and Bible of the newspaper industry. Some Tweeters lamented the demise as the end of the era, others thought that it should live on in web form. Others wondered what would happen to their directories, which gave market information and contacts at daily and weekly news publications around the country.
The staffers were told they would stay on until the end of the month, then given severance. All elements of E&P are ceasing publication.
The Twitter response is encouraging to some.
Staffer Joe Strupp says he may start a blog to fill the gap, as he feels the industry is really losing something if they lose E&P. Despite circulation declines, daily newspapers are still a $38 billion industry in the U.S.
Here's the story:
In full disclosure, my husband is a former editor of E&P when it was owned by the Brown family -- which then sold to VNU. That company was bought up by private equity firms, and renamed as Nielsen. It's Nielsen that's closing the doors.
The Nielsen Co. announced Thursday it was closing Editor and Publisher, a magazine which has chronicled the news industry for over a century, and selling several other brands to a newly formed company.
Kirkus Reviews, a book review publication founded in 1933, is also being shuttered.
Nielsen said eight brands, including the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, were being sold to e5 Global Media LLC, a new company formed by Pluribus Capital Management and Guggenheim Partners. Other brands included in the sale by Nielsen Business Media are Adweek, Brandweek, Mediaweek, The Clio Awards, Back Stage and Film Journal International.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Ban on uncertainty: Uncertainty in contractual terms and conditions is not allowed, unless all of terms and conditions of the risk are understood by all parties to a financial transaction.
Risk-sharing and profit-sharing: Parties involved in a financial transaction must share both associated risks and profits. Profits or returns from assets are permitted so long as the business risks are shared by borrower and lender.
Ethical investments: Investment in industries prohibited by the Qur’an, such as alcohol, pornography, gambling, and pork- based products, are discouraged.
Asset-backing: Each financial transaction must be tied to a “tangible, identifiable underlying asset.” Money is not considered an asset class because it is not tangible and thus, may not earn a return.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Mortgage crisis, bank failures, Bernie Madoff ripping off investors.
Why wasn't the business press there to save us from disasters?
That, of course, was a major discussion panel at the 2009 SABEW Spring Conference in Denver. Did the business press foresee the depth of this recession and provide adequate warnings?
In research, we're taking that idea a bit further, and Missouri master's student Boris Korby is looking into the matter for his master's project. He'll be researching the content of warning stories that appeared prior to the recession, comparing what business-focused media reported versus what more "Main Street" media reported.
He's also looking at how broadcast media fared in accurate forecasting of the 2008 recession versus more print-focused platforms. I'll report back on his progress, but would appreciate your insights here.
(photo/illustration by Eric Pier)
Well, SkyRadio wanted to interview me as an "innovator" as part of an upcoming series they were airing in March and April on Delta and USAIR. I get interview requests at least once a month, so it wasn't surprising, but the catch was the interview, conducted by esteemed journalists, would cost me $2995. Was I interested? And slots were going fast, as that $2995 pricetag was a special holiday rate!
If you go to SkyRadio's website, skyradionet.net, you can find lots of interviews with real newsmakers like former President Carter, T.Boone Pickens, and the CEO of Intel. You can also click to find undated interviews with people who apparently paid for the privilege of being side by side with interviews that weren't paid. Some of these paid plugs are apparently pretty old, as the interview subjects have now changed jobs, their companies have been sold, or their web contact information outdated. One so-called expert in Customer Relationship Management left that position in 2004, and her web address is for sale.
While we all know that there are broadcasters who demand a production fee for some interviews, SkyRadioNet does take this to a new low of selectivity. My solicitation message had apparently been sent to so many others that my email server had marked it as suspected spam. That special holiday rate, it seems, was just another "Cyber Monday" bargain in my inbox, but this time it was ethics on sale.
So the next time you plug in to listen to "Business News" on an airplane, it's clearly paid PR.