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Archive for the ‘Innovation in the media’ Category

Patch logoA colleague asked for my thoughts on the latest round of Patch layoffs and the decline and possible demise of the company.

My first thought is sincere best wishes and empathy for the hundreds of Patch employees losing their jobs (and those who earlier lost their jobs), including some friends.

Patch hired a lot of good journalists and did an excellent job covering a lot of communities (including the area where I live and many communities covered by my Digital First Media colleagues). We just hired Don Wyatt, a Patch editor, as our vice president for news in Michigan. Whenever journalists lose jobs, I hope for better opportunities around the next corner.

I won’t pretend that I ever studied Patch closely. When it launched, I was focused intensely on the launch of another much-hyped local news product, TBD. When a member of our TBD Community Network expressed concern about competition from Patch, I blogged about the possibility of collaborating with competitors, but otherwise I haven’t had much to say about it.

From TBD I moved to DFM (then the Journal Register Co.), where I had a similar intense focus on my duties on this job. So Patch has always been on the edge of my consciousness, but never a topic of concentration.

Granting that I didn’t study it closely, it always appeared to me that Patch was more innovative and experimental in trying to develop a new approach to local news coverage than it was to developing a new approach to local commerce.

I thought Patch had the potential to develop and succeed at moving beyond advertising into more meaningful revenue sources. I thought its national scale and digital roots gave it potential to develop some of the revenue sources I have encouraged news organizations to explore, such as databases, local search, direct sales and commissioned obituaries and other life stories.

If Patch tried any such innovative approaches at generating revenue, I never became aware of them. And they certainly never succeeded in building a sustainable business.

I welcome a guest post from anyone who has watched Patch closely or who worked for Patch. Maybe you can answer better than me: Why didn’t Patch succeed?

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I couldn’t resist aggregating Erik Wemple’s post on aggregation and the Washington Post.

Erik, who blogs about media for the Post, contacted me yesterday asking for a reaction to this statement by the Post’s soon-to-be new owner, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon:

The Post is famous for its investigative journalism. It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it. . . . Even behind a paywall [digital subscription], Web sites can summarize your work and make it available for free. From a reader point of view, the reader has to ask, ‘Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for free’ from another site?”

It was a bizarre statement, sounding as though it came from a longtime newspaper publisher, shaking his fist at those damned Internet disruptors on his lawn, rather than coming from one of those disruptors, supposedly offering hope by bringing new ideas and a new perspective to one of the most treasured newspapers. (more…)

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In my years discussing disruptive innovation while teaching Newspaper Next concepts, I often said that newspapers’ advertising/circulation blinders kept us from developing a digital marketplace such as Amazon.

Well, now, we finally have Amazon’s disruptive founder in the newspaper business, with the Washington Post’s announced sale to Jeff Bezos.

I don’t have time to analyze the deal today — and wouldn’t trust such swift analysis if I did — but I am glad to see such a disruptor coming to the newspaper business. I think we can count on the Post moving beyond the narrow advertising/subscriptions model that is collapsing.

To see Bezos bringing his disruptive approach to the newspaper of Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee, Bob WoodwardCarl Bernstein, Dana Priest, Carol Guzy and Gene Weingarten is exciting and intriguing. I look forward to it in anticipation.

It’s not what Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan forecast in EPIC 2014, but that did forecast an amazing Amazon merger. So I’ll post it here as a reminder.

Disclosure: My wife, Mimi Johnson, published her novel, Gathering String, using Amazon’s self-publishing services.

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In the past 20 years, a great American newspaper has lost 96 97 percent of its value.

The New York Times bought the Boston Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion. The Times today announced the sale of the Globe and related New England properties to John W. Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, for $70 million.

I used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator to figure that $1.1 billion in 1993 is worth $1,777,540,000 today. And $70 million is less than 4 percent of that. (more…)

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Update: Buck Ryan produced the video above about the conference, so I added it to this post.

The New Media in Russia conference is in its third and final day in Lyon, France. I’ve compiled my tweets the past two days. Today’s account will be updated throughout the day.

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I call your attention to seven recent pieces about the business of news. I don’t feel strongly enough (or have enough new to say) about any of them to comment at length, but I’ll comment briefly.

Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review continues to pretend that paywalls are a panacea for the news business, saying that the Washington Post needs one immediately. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I’m wrong and paywalls are a good idea. At best, they’re only part of a solution. If they were the path to posterity, the news organizations with paywalls wouldn’t be struggling the way they are. Even if a paywall works, we need a lot more than paywalls, and the single-minded focus on paywalls is slowing the development of other solutions.

Mathew Ingram’s response to Starkman is, not surprisingly, much more insightful: “This focus on a paywall as a magic solution misses the point about the larger risks facing both the Post and the industry as a whole.” (more…)

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It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say, when I saw that Clayton Christensen was offering the news business advice on dealing with disruptive innovation.

I look back with a mix of pride, gratitude and anger on my experience with Christensen’s partnership with the American Press Institute in the Newspaper Next project. We offered the newspaper business a strategy and process for changing our business model to adapt to the digital earthquake that was destroying our foundations.

If someone had embraced and fully pursued that approach, instead of merely dabbling with it, I think that company would be dramatically better off today than the rest of the news business (it would be so different that we certainly wouldn’t call it a newspaper company, even if it still produced newspapers). I could be wrong, but I’d like that company’s chances. And it could hardly be worse off than its peers are.

And, of course, we’re such a copycat industry that other companies would have followed that company and they would be better off as well. Instead, the newspaper industry copied each other in acting timidly and protectively.

We published the first N2 report in September 2006. That year newspaper ad revenues would decline by 1.7 percent from 2005′s peak level of $47 billionmillion. In my lifetime, newspapers’ print ad revenues had fallen in only seven years, according to Newspaper Association of America data. Only two of those declines were more than 3 percent, none larger than 9 percent. On the other hand, 10 times during my life, we saw double-digit growth in ad revenues.

The newspaper business was used to the gravy train and it wasn’t ready to change. (more…)

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I won’t be blogging for a few more days about Clayton Christensen‘s Nieman Reports piece Breaking News, but I want to acknowledge it and encourage reading it. (I’ve been too busy to dig into it, but plan to do so this weekend.)

Mark Potts, one of the smartest voices about digital journalism, calls it “maybe the most insightful, important article on the future of the news business since Clay Shirky’s legendary ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable‘.” (I blogged about the Shirky piece when it was published in 2009.)

When I was at the American Press Institute from 2005-8, we partnered with Christensen on the Newspaper Next project. I came to respect his insights about business and disruptive innovation greatly. I wish the newspaper business had followed the Newspaper Next recommendations more aggressively. I encourage people in the business to read Christensen’s latest piece (co-authored by David Skok and James Allworth). And I’ll have more to say on it soon.

Update. I have now blogged some thoughts on Christensen’s Breaking News.

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This will be my keynote address to the Arizona Newspapers Association fall convention in Scottsdale today. I didn’t follow the script closely and I trimmed the court-liveblogging section for time, but this is the written version. I also will lead a breakout session on revenue-building ideas.

It’s kind of early on a Saturday morning to start thinking about the weighty matters of the news business, so I’m going to get us started with a little exercise. If you don’t feel comfortable with Twitter, please stand up (if you’re physically able).

OK, if you’re not comfortable using Foursquare, I want you to raise your right hand above your head if you’re already standing or stand up if you’re still sitting.

If you’re not comfortable with Facebook or Pinterest or Reddit or Banjo or Google Voice or Spundge or Storify or ScribbleLive or some other tool with an odd name that you’ve heard might be important, raise your left hand if your right hand is already up, your right hand if you don’t have a hand up and stand up if you’re sitting.

Now, if you’re not comfortable letting the public come into your newsroom every day and use your computers, browse your archives, drink your coffee, chat uninvited with your news staff and attend your news meetings, (in person or online), wave your right hand if both hands are up, put up your left hand if it’s not up yet, your right hand if it’s not up yet and stand up if you’re sitting.

OK, if you don’t feel comfortable with a future built on revenue sources beyond advertising and subscriptions, wave both hands if you’ve already waved your right hand, wave your right hand if both hands are up, raise your left hand if only your right hand is up and raise your right hand if neither hand is up and stand up if you’re still sitting.

Finally (no, I’m not going to make you jump): If you’re not comfortable with crowdsourcing, curation, live chats or user-generated content, clap your hands, whatever you’ve been doing so far.

OK, everyone sit down. Is there anyone who stayed sitting through this whole exercise and didn’t clap? Please stand. OK, you’re excused. You don’t need to listen to anything I’m going to say. But everyone else look around and identify some of these people. You might want to sit next to them at lunch or buy them a drink tonight and talk to them.

I’m going to talk today about what makes us uncomfortable as journalists and news business leaders. I’m going to talk about embracing your discomfort and working through that discomfort to find the hope and promise that lie on the other side.

My father was an Air Force chaplain and later an American Baptist pastor, so once a year he had to give what ministers call the “stewardship” sermon, preaching about the importance of tithes and offerings to support the chapel or church. His favorite line was: “Give till it stops hurting.” I’m going to steal and adapt that line from Dad today (I’m sure my sons have heard many lines that I stole from Dad). Here’s my advice from Dad filtered through my media lens: Journalists and leaders in the news business need to change till it stops hurting. You need to get comfortable in your discomfort zone.

(more…)

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I was a guest via Google+ Hangout for Dan Pacheco’s class at Syracuse University this morning. They livestreamed on YouTube:

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Wow. This is going to be a short blog post because you shouldn’t be reading me, you should be reading Mark Potts.

Mark’s A Vision for the Future of Newspapers — 20 Years Ago is one of the most insightful pieces you will read on the history of news online and the opportunities blown by newspapers.

He tells the story of a memo Post Managing Editor Robert G. Kaiser wrote 20 years ago after returning from an Apple-sponsored conference in Japan. Awestruck by the upcoming developments he heard forecast (nearly all of which are old hat by now), Kaiser wrote:

None of this is science fiction — it’s just around the corner.

The memo, which quaintly notes “Hook” as a movie viewers might want to see, and Mark’s reflection 20 years later provide insights into a sincere effort by a great newspaper to get ahead of the digital curve that it clearly saw coming.

Mark also reflects on the industry’s failure at digital efforts:

The history of the past 20 years of newspapers and digital media is, unfortunately, a legacy of timidity, missed opportunities and a general lack of imagination and guts to leap into the future.

But stop reading me. Go read Mark. I can’t remember the last piece I read that was this good about the history of digital news.

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I call your attention to two reports on journalism and where it is headed:

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