Category Archives: news website

Start making sense

Common to both Gina Chen and Megan Garber’s recent calls for incorporating the Wikipedia aesthetic into newsrooms is the timely idea of giving readers what they need to empower themselves and make sense of the world.

In her look at the hyperlocal upstart WikiCity, Chen sees a potential model (and perhaps partner) for news organizations wanting to tap into hyper-niches in their communities. In previous posts, Chen has advocated for a reinvention of news websites so that they place more emphasis on giving readers what they want — not just in terms of news, but a whole host of interests.

I think Chen is right in wanting news organizations to play a bigger, more comprehensive role in being a “one-stop-shop” for readers, via curation, in their geographic area. After looking the WikiCity sites for Tampa and St. Petersburg, (I live in the Tampa Bay area), I can see the potential for fulfilling Chen’s vision, though there’s some work to be done, as neither site is arranged in a way that I would dare call “intuitive” and the content is generally very thin.

Garber, who writes for Columbia Journalism Review, has a piece on health care coverage and Wikipedia that is in sync with my own appreciation for the “wikification” of the newsroom.

Garber contrasts the lurid drama of the “death panels” narrative that has “proven irresistible to reporters” with the well-organized, comprehensive Wikipedia entry for “Health Care Reform in the United States.”

Indeed, what Wikipedia provides, ultimately, is information, pure and simple. And, perhaps just as significantly, it provides the implicit assumption that ‘information, pure and simple’ is enough. An encyclopedia entry has no mandate for a ‘colorful lede.’ It has no instinct for conflict. It assumes its audience’s attention, rather than feeling compelled to earn it, painstakingly—word by dramatic word.

And, because Wikipedia is crowdsourced, it has no implicit mandate, ethical or economical, toward ‘balance’ and ‘objectivity.’ It thus has no vested interest in the kind of he said/she said approach that has, to this point, so sorely compromised the mainstream media’s health care narrative.

Pegasus News provides a good model for going local

Lots to like about the neighborhood-centric focus of Pegasus News: a useful and user-friendly site, with interactive maps for categories like homes, garage sales and drink specials (to name just a very few) for the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

While speaking with Matthew Sollars of News Innovation, Pegasus founder Mike Orren explained the business model behind his ambitious venture and explained why going hyperlocal isn’t enough:

You’ve got to have the hyperlocal neighborhood information in the context of what’s going on in the larger market. There is such a finite universe of people in a specific neighborhood that care enough to go out of their way to look for information and news about where they live, that universe is not enough to sell advertisers. But if you can put that in the context of ‘where am I going to go eat tonight, what’s going on locally in niche areas of interest that I have,’ that’s an opportunity to bring a lot more people into the fold. Then when you put neighborhood information in front of them they’re more likely to engage with it.

Another feature I really like about Pegasus is its commitment to value-added advertising for businesses: direct marketing, highly targeted e-mail blasts and geo-located mobile ads via an iPhone app that Pegasus developed itself.

To provide its news content, Pegasus maintains an impressive roster of contributors, and links to major news sources like the Ft. Worth Star Telegram and  The Dallas Morning News. The next step, if I’m the online producer, would be to add a social networking function that harnesses the power of the site’s 500,000 unique visitors each month and helps build the brand as an indispensable source of news and information.

What good are page views if you can’t monetize them?

Bill Grueskin, Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia University, has a must-read article at paidContent that supports the position I took in a recent post about how overrated the quest for page views has become:

What good is Web traffic anyway when the online advertising model is so badly broken? …

… It’s troubling that, even as traffic to news sites is growing, their once-lucrative home pages and article pages are displaying house ads or remnant ads with CPMs of no more than $1. At that rate, even a link from Drudge, which could refer 500,000 page views, generates only $500. …

… In other words, even if it’s true that aggregators are siphoning off users from news sites (and it’s pretty clear that they refer traffic to sites as well as drain traffic from them), does it make a big difference in a world of $1 CPMs? …

… The value of advertising online ought to be measured more by engagement than by sheer numbers, that is, more by metrics like time spent or page views per user than by the sheer number of people coming to the site, many of whom may not assign any value to the journalists who generated the content.

News website FAIL

When is an award-winning website still a really bad website? When it’s reviewed by John Temple, who gives the Arizona Daily Star site a resounding “FAIL” based on 18 criteria.

The Arizona Daily Star (azstarnet.com) had been recognized by the EPpy awards as the “best news Web site with fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors.”  But while that may make for good promotional copy, it doesn’t mean that readers — you know, the ones who are supposedly using and interacting with the site — are being offered a useful product.

Temple administers a test created by Mark Potts to determine how well azstarnet.com is serving the typical user. Again and again, from listings of the best restaurants to comprehensive coverage of local personalities, the site fails to measure up.

Its failure on the first three criteria, including “Without using search, find continuing, in-context coverage of a  long-running local story” — underscores the usefulness of what Martin Langeveld (and I, as well) has been arguing for — wikifying the newsroom:

Wouldn’t it make sense to build all of the back story into a wiki on the topic, and to make it the responsibility of the reporter to update the wiki whenever something new happens? And once the wiki is created, why not make it available online, linked in the printed and online versions of the story, so a reader can get a summary of all the background the paper possesses, not just whatever the reporter considers relevant to the current story.

At the end of a separate post about attracting an online news audience, Langeveld emphasizes that communication, not design for its own sake, should be foremost on the mind of those who run news websites:

It’s not about how sexy-looking your site is. It’s not about having the absolute latest display technology. It’s about how you engage readers with conversations and with ways of interacting with news staffers and with each other.

Build your community, not numbers

While it’s easy to spot the news outlets that, desperate to survive in the new media ecosystem, stray outside their local focus and engage in an obvious grab for page views, others have realized they must expand their concept of business operations and provide the communities they serve something of value.

And blogging about whatever’s hot in Google Trends isn’t it — that’s just  playing a short-sighted and pointless numbers game. Sure, a site may see a spike in traffic because a blogger made sure to put up a post about whatever was most popular in Google search that day. But to what end? How long until advertisers see the stats for themselves and discover that they aren’t getting the click-throughs those misleading numbers promised, that all those eyeballs were a just an ephemeral occurrence?

WestSeattleBlog.com tries to build a relationship with local businesses by providing free seminars. Men’s Health offers an iPhone app that users can purchase in order to buy its Workouts. While the The Seattle Courant didn’t have the capital to make good on its ambitious vision, its business strategy is worth filing away for future reference:

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Beyond advertising revenue

UPDATE: USA Today regrets not charging for its iPhone app.

Paul Bradshaw, who writes for Online Journalism Blog, says forget about making money from online content (which is what USA Today recently announced it will be doing with its digital edition) and focus instead on value-added services:

Bradshaw’s points about newspapers needing to build new revenue streams is echoed in this post from John Temple, former editor and publisher for the Rocky Mountain News:

I don’t think the industry can get there if all it does is try to hold on to its legacy revenue streams and its legacy business. One thing that concerns me is that newspapers don’t seem to be working with local businesses to help them find their own foothold on the Internet and at the same time possibly place themselves in the middle of transactions. This might enable them to find a new revenue stream they couldn’t have tapped before.

And here’s just one example, provided by the Center for Strategic and International studies, of a news outlet that is going beyond advertising for its income:

European companies have also been finding creative ways to thrive in a changing media environment. Norway’s VG Nett, which is affiliated with the popular Norwegian tabloid, Verdens Gang, rivals Google in Norway and has a profit margin of nearly 30 percent. It does this through charging for services such as a $90-a-year weight-loss club, a pay-for-upgrade social networking site and streaming soccer games.

Does your newsroom know its community?

Take about a minute and look at Mark Glaser’s 10 steps to saving newspapers in the digital age (via CyberJournalist). And then take note that the thread running through each of these steps isn’t about cutting costs as much as it is about being innovative in the effort to engage the local community.

Because I’m a good netizen, I won’t reprint the short post here and deprive CyberJournalist of the traffic, but I will say that Glaser is right on target in telling news sites to focus on what businesses want, rather than viewing them as an endless source of advertising dollars. And his recommendation to engage the community in face-to-face meetings recalls Gina Chen’s fine Save the Media post on how journalists can create communities of readers.

The last people the news industry needs in a crisis

From Newspaper Death Watch, in its commentary on a meeting of newspaper executives seeking to implement a paid content plan for their websites (emphasis below is mine):

The newspaper industry’s paid content debate sounds more and more like the desperate protests of the music industry when file-sharing began to dismantle its business model. The two industries have some characteristics in common. Both are mature, traditionally stable and highly profitable businesses with predictable growth and high barriers to entry. The people who gravitate to such industries excel at managing costs and limiting risk.

These are the last people you want to run operations at a time of crisis. Crisis demands innovative thinking, fast reaction times and tolerance for risk. One reason we’ve seen so little of this in the newspaper industry is that the people at the top have no capacity for making dramatic changes. The innovation that we’ve seen comes almost entirely from startups or skunkworks operations that publishers have had the sensibility to leave alone.

Bring on the unpaid contributors

UPDATE at the bottom

UPDATE II (June 8, 2009) — enabling the entrepreneurial journalist

Jeffrey Seglin, a professor who has written for the New York Times, makes the case that when writers write for free, they not only devalue their own work, they make it harder for others to receive compensation:

Your work has value. If you start giving it away for free, then it diminishes that value and makes it harder for others to charge for their work as well.

I think this is true. One need only spend a few moments perusing freelance writing job sites or surveying the payments correspondents are receiving from local pubs (online and print) to know just how little contributors are compensated.

Now, do I think it’s wrong for writers to contribute their work for free?

No.

But do I agree that anyone other than a new writer looking to build a portfolio is — to use Seglin’s term — a “blockhead” if he or she writes for free?

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ESPN Local: One-stop home team shopping

Today I discovered ESPN Local, which aggregates stories from across the Web, organizing them by sport. A quick survey of the site reveals that most of those sources are traditional, hometown newspapers.

Because I live in the Tampa Bay area, I first chose the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Local News, which brought up a page of stories from Tampabay.com (the St. Petersburg Times‘ site), TBO.com, Lakeland Ledger, WTSP-TV and Naples Daily News.

Major League Baseball is in season, so the Tampa Bay Rays page currently has an even more eclectic array of sources, including the Edmonton Sun, Kansas City Star, Bradenton Herald, TwinCities.com, Desert Sun, The Stuart News, MLB.com, The Oregonian, Fanball and Detroit News.

Each link includes both the headline and lede graf from each source. It seems like a win for both ESPN Local and the aggregated sites that get the benefit of ESPN Local’s traffic.

And the value for fans is clear: Instead of having to add umpteen sites to an RSS feed, they can go to one site that has already done the aggregation and see every story at a glance.