Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

iJournalism? October 14, 2008

Filed under: journalism,newspapers — contentninja @ 7:00 am
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Into the woods

Image by ~jjjohn~ via Flickr

What if newspapers could adopt the iTunes business model?

Leonard Witt, lead blogger at the Public Journalism Network, wonders about that.

“What if  — and this is really a big ‘what if’ — what if news organizations put together divisions that worked at producing blockbuster productions that people might actually want to download via iTunes or something similar. What if you had produced a video or audio production that was so popular that 100,000 people downloaded it at 99 cents. Getting 100,000 sales would pay for one journalist.”

Witt speculates that such content would not be hard news and not made by the newsroom. His “pop culture division” would live separate from the news operation, like today’s advertising department. And like advertising, the division’s revenues would support hard news journalism.

This former features editor finds it heartwarming to think that features content could be the salvation of newspapers. It’s good work if you can get it. :)

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Get ’em talking July 16, 2008

Filed under: community,content — contentninja @ 4:58 pm
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most talked about brands - 2008Image by Will Lion via Flickr

I have wrung my hands here, repeatedly in fact, over whether I’m adding value to the conversation.

Yes, says Umair Haque and his colleagues at Havas Media Lab. They’ve put out a paper called “The New Economics of Consumption: User Generated Context.” In it, they argue that user-generated content is in short supply, but what the market has lots of is user-generated context. Huh?

Take Content Ninja’s blog. A lot of what I offer here is my riff on the stuff I read in my feeds — good points made by bright minds in the field and then I analyze and expand (or try to) on them. What I’m doing is adding context to someone else’s content.

Haque et al. suggest that media’s future lies not in figuring out how to get user-generated content and use it for little or nothing.  The key is to put content out there that generates a contextual discussion. That discussion is important for two reasons: 1) It’s proof that your content is of value to users, and 2) the value of the context comes not from individual users but from the collective discussion.

“A naked rating, ranking, or review on its own has little value or meaning – but millions of them, in
the aggregate, weave complex and multilayered webs of meaning. Put another way, context is the result of the complex, multilevel, network effects that happen when millions of consumers connect,” they write.

And the context is specific to a community or network. Outsiders won’t get it. Think of it as a circle. Give the community content of value to members, and they’ll want to provide context of value to the community.

The white paper goes on to discuss how this viewpoint can be used to change the way advertising, business models and media strategy are done. How that works is less clear to me, but I’m sure Haque and his folks will have more to say.

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A view into the future July 2, 2008

Filed under: innovation,newspapers — contentninja @ 4:46 pm
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Photo of knitted hat, yarn, and k...

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Tim McGuire of the Arizona State J-school gave a speech June 23 that gives quite possibly the most concrete vision of newspaper journalism’s future to date.

Yes, content is moving to the Web, he says, but “a lot of readers covet the prioritization offered by a newspaper.” In McGuire’s opinion, newspapers have another 20-25 years left in them, and he suggests that they do it really well for the audience that wants a print product.

He says: “I am convinced newspaper companies need to protect their newspaper franchises while they become digital entrepreneurs. I think there is money to be made in the next twenty years, but more importantly, I believe time is essential if our society is going to figure out how we are going to deal with the blow to democracy the loss of newspaper journalism would inflict.”

He goes on to suggest that we accept that the print product has a different mission than the electronic product. He says newspapers should stop chasing the elusive non-reader because it’s costing them core readers. Provide a great electronic product for a younger audience and those who prefer it, and provide a great print product for boomers and those who prefer it, he says. Yes, the latter audience will dwindle as members die, hence the 20-25-year lifespan.

He suggests reinvigorating the Sunday paper as THE mass product of the week (delivering inserts as well as news en masse) and downsizing papers for other days to meet news and advertising demands. He sees daily print products coming in different shapes and sizes, with a mix of niche products, too, and maybe even different business models for each day of the week.

“What I have just described represents a new delivery and sales reality …” he says. “Consistency of process has been crucial to your success. Yet, what I am describing will make every day’s delivery hugely different from the other. Each day’s product might be priced differently too. And, even more frightening, mix and match options might have to be offered to consumers.”

And what about connecting with the community? “Newspapers must convene all sorts of audiences in all sorts of imaginative ways. In a fractured media world it is incumbent on the democratic responsibilities of newspapers that newspapers lead, guide and direct everything from democracy to knitting clubs.”

While I generally find McGuire’s vision of the future fascinating, I quibble with that point. It still puts the journalist at the center of the universe, and I just don’t believe that’s going to work for connecting with our communities around content, especially online.

Our communities don’t want us to lead their knitting groups. They want us to acknowledge that the local knitters know more than we do about knitting, thank you very much,  and let them be the experts on it and share their expertise with and through us.

As for delivering a great newspaper to the audience that wants it and a great electronic product to the audience that wants it, he’s right. Know your audience and give them what they want.

He concludes with some pretty blunt advice for all of us: “… if you can’t be a source of positive energy in your media workplace get out. I said there is no shame in ceding the future to the young and engaged.  But, if you stay you must commit to being part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

“… If you are genuinely ready for the future, you cannot become one of the whiners Dean Singleton complains about. You must become an innovative doer ready to forget about the past and ready to build a new way for publishers to meet the needs of reader and advertiser customers.”

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