Friday, December 8, 2017

Journalists and sales: don't sell your soul

Over the past several years, I have written a number of blog posts about how journalists can get involved in sales and marketing without violating their ethical standards or damaging the credibility of their publication. Here are a few of them.

1. Journalists selling ads: think of it as a fair exchange
"When I was going through the transition from editor of a business publication to the role of publisher, I dreaded sales calls with clients.
"It meant I had to ask clients for money, which was a new and uncomfortable experience. The hilarious irony of this is that, as a reporter and editor, it was my job to ask people much tougher, more-intrusive questions, and I did it with no problem -- grieving parents about the death of their child, a political candidate about his sexual escapades, a business executive about her salary.
"How tough could it be for a former reporter to ask an advertiser for money?"

2. How much to charge advertisers? As much as possible
The advertising sales context is different today from when I originally wrote this post. But the principle is the same: don't get engaged in price cutting.
"A hyperlocal site might be able to charge higher CPMs than a daily newspaper. Why? For a local retailer the audience of a hyperlocal is more concentrated and contains more likely customers; the daily newspaper’s site has many users who will never be customers of that retailer."
3. Editors are the best marketers of a news organization 
"Many editors cringe when asked to be involved with sales and marketing. They feel it betrays ethical and editorial values to make a buck. But editors have product knowledge useful in sales, and they have a passion for their work that can inspire sponsors and advertisers to spend money on the site.
"Today editors have to be involved in sales and marketing because of the competition from digital media. The question is how to do it without compromising editorial integrity. "
4. 5 dirty words journalists need to learn to say without blushing 
"If we want to launch our own news organizations, we have to recognize for the first time that journalism is a business, that someone has to pay the bills and that there is money involved. Money? This is a dirty word for journalists. It makes us blush. We associate it with influence peddling, lobbyists, bribery, corruption and other topics of our investigative journalism."
5. How digital media monetize their social capital 
"Social capital is a value that media entrepreneurs possess through their ethnic, social, professional, and business networks. It is also a value that they create through their work's impact on society.
Cultural and social capital are “disguised forms of economic capital” and produce their effects by concealing the fact that economic capital is at their root. The favors we do, the gifts we give, the friendships we cultivate, the relationships we make are all motivated, to some extent, by an expectation of gratitude or a returned favor."
6. You create more value with a community than with an audience

"An audience is just a group of observers.  A community shares values and a deep interest in a topic or geographic area. It often has a bias toward action. That is where value comes in.
"Connecting these people and creating value for them is the beginning of a community. Only when you have connected them can you begin to get their financial support."

7.  How I ran my newspaper monopoly (and Warren Buffett ran his)
 "It was a measure of the daily newspaper’s market dominance that a kid who wanted a paper route had to buy it from another kid. Having a paper route was the pre-teen equivalent of owning an NFL franchise, an enviably profitable protected monopoly. Mine was a particular block on a particular street. The price to buy it was equal to one week’s collections — in my case about $40."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It takes a village to identify false news

Filloux: A credibility scorecard
Liberal democracies are being tested around the world by the rapid diffusion of misleading or false information designed to influence voters.

It has happened in France, Catalonia, the U.K., and, of course, the U.S.

Many have proposed--for example, the World Economic Forum--that two of the most powerful vehicles for spreading information, Facebook and Google, should be responsible for filtering out material that is demonstrably false or misleading.

Versión en español. 

But it turns out that this is not easy to do. False information is often irresistibly appealing and moves too fast to be stopped.
Why we're Still in the Dark about Facebook's Fight Against Fake News -- Mother Jones
Nine experts offer opinions on how to fix Facebook -- New York Times
Not an editor, but a scorecard

What's more, it is hard to define false news in a way that can be automated by algorithms. Journalist and media consultant Frederic Filloux has developed the News Quality Scoring Project, which attempts to use automated systems to evaluate the likely credibility of a piece of news content. It doesn't label news as false or fake. It simply gives a credibility score based on a series of indicators such as a publisher's or a journalist's previous reliability.

Filloux's Publication Quality Score criteria


Facebook, Google, and Twitter themselves are working with the Trust Project on an automated system to display "trust indicators" alongside information they share with users.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Chasing clicks isn't bringing in readers or money



Some observations by media economics expert Robert Picard's observations about the challenges of media today, from an interview done by the University of Navarra Faculty of Communication:

Media companies need to develop revenue from many more sources than they did in the past.

Media companies are diluting the quality of their product by chasing reader clicks with light or frivolous digital content. "This is not bringing in money, and it's not bringing in audience."

Versión en español

Maybe 15 to 25 percent of the reading public will pay for serious news, Picard says. These are the people who really want news.

Journalists think their work is really important, and for the journalists, it is. But for most people, they just want to get on with their lives. If something important happens, then they will go online and read it somewhere, but most of the time they won't pay for it.

Newspapers have to stop thinking of themselves as a product for a general audience. The people who still subscribe tend to be the most active politically, socially, and financially in their communities. Newspapers should be selling that aspect of their audience, not a massive audience.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Picard to publishers: get cozy with readers, users

Robert Picard speaking to class at University of Navarra.

Robert G. Picard is one of the founding fathers of the academic discipline known as media economics. The field has attracted more attention lately as news outlets, ravaged by digital competitors, have gutted their reporting staffs and slashed public-service coverage.

Policy makers, media executives, investors, and journalists themselves look to experts like Picard for answers about how to deal with the industry's financial crisis and the diminishing supply of news.

Picard admits that he is unsure of exactly what the future holds for the industry. What he does know is that the people who are running media organizations--TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and even digital outlets--know far too little about their readers, viewers, listeners, and users.

Publishers need to invite these consumers into the processes of creating and distributing content, he said. They need to think about how to create value that will satisfy the needs and solve the problems of their users. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Publishers look beyond Facebook, Google for revenues

A deal with the devil.

A new study by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) confirms what I have suspected for a long time: when publishers rely on Facebook for distribution, they are making a deal with the devil.

"Reality Check: Making Money with Facebook" was based on a survey of an "expert group" of 150 publishers. On average, Facebook was contributing only 7% of their revenues in spite of the fact that much of the publishers' content was being consumed on that platform.

And Facebook is stingy when it comes to sharing revenue with publishers, compared with Google, Spotify, Twitter, and others. It "seems to share proportionally less revenue with content creators than other platforms do."

Loss of branding power

The WAN-IFRA findings are also troubling because studies by Pew Research (see paragraph 4 of the study) and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (see p. 16 of the study) have shown that users think Facebook or Twitter produced news stories that were actually produced by a news organization. In other words, news organizations are losing their brand identities in social media.

If news organizations are going to have a chance of survival in the new digital economy, they will need to rely on the power of their brands  as trusted sources to persuade people to pay for their content.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

'We interrupt this class for news of your ex-girlfriend'

As a professor, I often wonder what effect my class presentations are having on the minds of my students. Honestly, is it really possible for any human being to pay attention completely to a class for 45 minutes? Or does the mind wander?

While I am explaining the theory of market externalities, every media company in the world is fighting for the attention of those students. These companies are desperate to attract eyeballs for their content and their advertisers' messages.

They have developed ever more powerful tools to distract people from what they are doing and look at their smartphones. They use pings, vibrations, badges, flashing lights, lock-screen messages, and who knows what else.

What human being could pay attention to me when they receive a notification on their smartphone that their ex has commented on their new profile photo? Or that there is breaking news about the latest silly statements by a president? It's no contest.

Versión en español

The Notification Experiment

I wondered how this affected my students. So I did a simple survey in my Media Economics class at the University of Navarra. I asked the students to keep track of how many notifications they received from all of their apps and news sources during one 45-minute period.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Women are making their mark in digital news startups

Women are taking a leadership role in the development of digital journalism in Latin America, according to a new study of 100 startups.

The study, Inflection Point, by SembraMedia in partnership with Omidyar Network, offers many clues to achieving the elusive goal of sustainability for new digital media.

Click to enlarge.
One clue is that women have the skills and experience to lead the way: 62% of the 100 organizations in the study had at least one woman founder, and women represented 38% of the total founders of all the media (p. 41 in the PDF version).

Extensive interviews with the founders -- 25 each from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico -- produced data that clarified the elements of successful business models and showed the best places to invest resources and training.

"This finding suggests that women are taking advantage of the low barriers to entry in digital media startups to go around the glass ceilings of traditional media and build their own publishing companies," wrote the directors of the study, Janine Warner and Mijal Iastebner, who are also co-founders of SembraMedia. (Disclosure: I worked as an editor of the study.)

Versión en español