Archive for the ‘Innovation in the media’ Category

American Press Institute logoI get a sense of déjà vu in the American Press Institute’s release this morning of a pair of reports on innovation in news organizations.

An important event in my career was the 2006 release of API’s report Newspaper Next: A Blueprint for Transformation, followed by my efforts to promote and teach the principles of the report to executives and organizations in the newspaper industry. As I noted five years later, and as API’s report today acknowledges, N2 fall far short of transforming the newspaper industry. (We’ll never know if the approach outlined in the report would have helped transform a newspaper company or the whole organization. The industry treated it as a buffet, tasting a few dishes it offered, when it was really offering a new diet. I know of no news organization that came close to attempting the transformation that N2 advocated.)

API’s latest effort to guide innovation in the news industry is a pair of reports released this morning, A culture-based strategy for creating innovation in news organizations by Jeff Sonderman and Tom Rosenstiel, and The best practices for innovation within news organizations by Craig Silverman.

I recommend both reports as important reading for leaders in news operations seeking to be more successful at innovation, especially if organizational culture is an issue for you. But I guess I’m jaded enough that I won’t predict a lot of cultural change as a result of the reports. N2 offered broader, deeper and more specific advice for changing a company. But maybe almost a decade later, some companies will be better able to use the advice API is offering today on workplace culture.

Adding to the N2 echoes of these reports are four mentions of Clayton Christensen in the Silverman report. The Sonderman/Rosenstiel report mentions API’s partnership with Christensen for Newspaper Next, which made heavy use of his principles of disruptive innovation. Between them, today’s reports make 10 mentions of some form of the word disrupt. I’m not sure what to make of this. Christensen’s theories apply to the news business as strongly now as they did in 2006, but I’ll be surprised if newspaper companies ever start operating by them. (The API reports do not share N2’s newspaper focus, studying digital startups as well as legacy media companies.)

I suspect the advice in the API reports might be more effective with news startups, building innovative structures and processes from scratch, rather than in established companies trying to overcome existing cultural problems without screwing up declining products that produce their revenue. (more…)

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Michelle Rogers

Michelle Rogers

I asked Michelle Rogers to share some links that show the work of the Redding Record Searchlight under the Four Platform Newsroom.

Michelle Rogers was a colleague of mine at Digital First Media, and I’m pleased she has found a new home as Content Editor at the Record Searchlight. In a companion post, her editor, Silas Lyons, answers some questions about the Four Platform Newsroom. Here are the links Michelle shared with me:

Shaping Our Future portal

Facebook group for Shaping our Future

Get Out portal

Facebook group for Get Out

Buttry comment: Facebook groups are great places for engagement about topics or within niches. I belong to several Facebook groups that include some of my most meaningful discussions on Facebook. For an excellent example of a newsroom using a Facebook group to improve its journalism and engagement, read about ProPublica’s Patient Harm group. Back to Michelle and her links: (more…)

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Silas Lyons

Silas Lyons

This guest post from Silas Lyons, editor of the Redding Record Searchlight in California, continues my discussion of the Four Platform Newsroom program at Journal Media Group. I blogged Wednesday about the Digital Leads report that reviewed the newsroom transformation efforts of the former E.W. Scripps Co. newsrooms. Friday I blogged the answers of three JMG editors to some questions I asked about the program.

Today I have two responses from Redding, Calif. Lyons sent his answers to my question after I published Friday’s post. Michelle Rogers, a former colleague of mine at Digital First Media, is Content Editor at the Record Searchlight and sent me links showing some of the Redding newsroom’s work.

I asked: “How did you choose and develop your franchise topics?”

Lyons: We learned the most from this part of the process. The smartest thing we did early on was to listen to Knight Digital’s advice to be very ambitious about outreach to people in our community who truly represented the personas – they were between 25 and 50 years old, professional, had kids or a mortgage or both. For a small newsroom (under 20 people including me) and a smaller Four Platform team (8), we put a huge effort into those interviews, netting close to 40 people and developing a very solid basis of data.

While not professional market research, it was better in some ways because the responses were very real to the people developing the plan. They didn’t just ask which topics would interest the personas, but where the interview subjects get that kind of information now, what they feel is missing, what kinds of devices they use to access different types of news and information, what kind of real-life situation they’re in when they’re using those devices. (more…)

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As I was working on Wednesday’s post about the Four Platform Newsroom program of Journal Media Group newsrooms, I emailed some of the editors asking for more details.

Below are the answers from three editors, Mizell Stewart III, Managing Director/Content of Journal Media; Mark Tomasik, editor of TCPalm.com and Treasure Coast Newspapers; and Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Here are my questions (in bold) and their answers (with some links added by me):

You seem to have managed the right balance between a corporate imperative to change and local initiative in how to change. Too strong a corporate imperative results in one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t work and too much local initiative allows people to decide they don’t need to change (or that a little tinkering will suffice). What do you think were the most effective things you did to achieve and maintain this balance?

Mizell Stewart III

Mizell Stewart III

Mizell Stewart III: From my own perspective, corporate’s role is in creating a sense of urgency within each newsroom around digital transformation, setting priorities and making targeted investments. In the 4P project, we invested in consumer research and created a structure, with the help of the Knight Digital Media Center, to engage front-line and mid-level journalists in driving the change.

My observation is the typical corporate approach to newsroom change is to hammer on the top editor to make things happen or take away so much control that the editor feels powerless. We tried to strike a balance between those two extremes. By enabling the staff committees and putting the editor in the role of facilitator, we tried to create a process in which everyone is learning and growing at the same time. Investing in tools and training showed folks that we were serious. That opportunity for local initiative created the sense of ownership that helped us make great progress.

Mark Tomasik: The most effective things done to achieve and maintain this balance were:

  1. Corporate promised and then provided the unwavering training, the framework and the support (including financial support for market research and ongoing training). The local property had the freedom to choose the topics and the timing as well as how to utilize staff. The ability to customize to fit our market and our staff was a difference maker.
  2. Local decision-making was done largely by a Four Platform property-level newsroom committee (with support from other functions) that was comprised primarily of non-managers. Senior newsroom leaders, such as myself, attended all the meetings, but the role of senior newsroom leaders was to guide and support. The committee itself was empowered to make key recommendations and/or decisions and choices. So, for our staff, the changes felt like they came from them, from within, and not mandated by corporate.
  3. Because audience engagement and feedback was encouraged and baked into the equation from the start, the overwhelmingly positive responses we got from the audience, especially the personas, excited and inspired all of our staff, serving as a motivation to continue with the changes, and the early successes created an atmosphere of positive, progressive change rather than change for change sake.
Jack McElroy

Jack McElroy

Jack McElroy: Thanks for continuing the conversation on our 4P initiative. Regarding your question, I think the key was that Mizell (corporate) imposed a process but left it to local properties to execute the process and find the solutions that fit locally. The process was very deliberate, and it moved with its own inexorable logic. First came the research, followed by creation of local teams charged with dissecting the data and developing plans focused on the research. Training then followed based on the plan. Then came execution. We are now in a reiteration phase, examining results and making adjustments.

At each step, corporate resources were provided. Magid did the research. Knight Digital facilitated the examination of the data, the development of the plans and the training. Corporate webinars shared successes and best practices. We soon will be launching the use of the American Press Institute’s Metrics for News to study results. But throughout, the ownership of the initiatives was local.

In the past, we’ve sometimes seen solutions imposed from on high, or we’ve seen local properties seek solutions autonomously, without much corporate guidance or resources. This change process provided structure and momentum at the corporate level but gave local newsrooms ownership of what that change ultimately would be.

I’m interested in exploring the development of franchise topics and what they mean. Some of the topics are fairly general areas that a single media outlet can’t “own” (the language the report uses in defining the franchise topics) exclusively, such as local entertainment or Tennessee sports. Even if your local newsroom is the best in the community at that topic, alt weeklies (in the metro areas at least) cover entertainment, too, and everyone in Knoxville covers the Vols. Other topics were important local topics that others probably don’t cover much or well (water in Wichita Falls being the best example). So I want to understand franchise topics a little better: Does this just reflect how different newsrooms interpreted the franchises and the needs of their communities? Or did you start out saying the franchises should be a mix of those must-have topics that everyone covers, but we’re committing to be the best and those undercovered topics that are important to the community? Can a newsroom really “own” a big community topic in a competitive market? Or did each newsroom come up with different definitions of franchises that might not have revolved around ownership?

Stewart: I describe franchise topics as public-facing news brands that ground digital transformation in the pursuit of quality journalism. Sure, everyone can cover entertainment – but only Treasure Coast binds entertainment and things to do to social media and crowdsourcing through their pursuit of the #TCPalmSocial franchise. It does reflect how different newsrooms interpreted the franchises and the needs of their communities, and we fully expect those topics to change over time.

We talked more about franchise topics as not being a rehash or a relabel of existing work. They could incorporate existing beats and topics in a fresh, multiplatform way. There is no question that a lot of news organizations cover local government and politics, but I believe franchise is all about the approach rather than the specific topic. InforMemphis is a unique framework, in my opinion, for coverage of local government. That team didn’t restructure the newsroom to add a reporter about craft beer – but it did hold a forum for mayoral candidates that featured craft beer and barbecue for more than 100 participants from the community. Our news organization can own a specific approach to government and politics or college sports, for example, that sets it apart from other local news sources.

Tomasik: We made the choices based on two factors:

  1. Using market research that showed what topics potential readers would be willing to pay for.
  2. Matching any of those potential topics to staff skills. We focused on the topics in which we were certain we had the staff expertise and skills to produce consistently good content with the potential to grow it.

How did you choose and develop the personas to guide reporting of interest to target demographic groups?

Mark Tomasik

Mark Tomasik

Tomasik: We used a combination of the market research and staff on-the-street interviews with potential customers to develop personas. Using the personas was critical to making content decisions. For example, for our #TCPalmSocial franchise, the persona is a married woman with a child. So, if we had our choice of covering a family-oriented air show or an upscale art show in the same community on the same day, we followed the persona and chose the air show, knowing our use of resources had a greater chance of reaching the target audience.

What was the role of live coverage in your transformation?

Tomasik: Live coverage transformed into, first and foremost, a social media/audience engagement opportunity rather than a traditional text narrative opportunity. So, when President Obama visited the Treasure Coast in March, all our journalists used multiple social media platforms as their most effective storytelling device. The engagement with audience was constant and informative. The community used our social media posts for everything on how to avoid traffic snarls caused by the presidential visit (we had interactive maps of his route on mobile) to sharing celebrity sightings (Jay Leno, Ahmad Rashad) related to the visit. The audience demanded and expected information (including visuals) in that format and on those digital platforms; not waiting for narratives on dot.com or print.

This was a lot to undertake in normal times (if those even exist any more). But the corporate restructuring had to present a huge distraction during this process (and probably some skepticism about whether the initiative would survive the merger). How did you manage that external (to the newsroom) upheaval that you couldn’t control at the same time that you’re trying to cause upheaval to reach important goals?

Stewart: Fortunately, the initiative was well underway before the transition to Journal Media Group began. We worked to manage the upheaval by incorporating the transition into our in-house learning and development programs, such as conducting sessions for top newsroom leaders on what it takes to lead through change. It also validated our focus on baking the initiative into the newsroom.

During the rollout of the initiative, we had top editor changes in several newsrooms. In nearly every case, the newsroom committee continued their work on the rollout of local franchise topics while the search for a new editor was underway. This demonstrated to me that engaging leaders at every level is critical to achieving sustainable change.

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Digital LeadsI am cheering on the Four Platform Newsroom transformation efforts of the Journal Media Group newsrooms. And I encourage you to read a new report, published today, about the project in newsrooms of the former E.W. Scripps Co.: Digital Leads: 10 keys to newsroom transformation.

I have some experience with newsroom transformation efforts. As editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008-9, I led a local effort to change how a newsroom worked. As digital transformation editor at Digital First Media, I led a companywide transformation effort, first an informal effort involving visits to 84 newsrooms, then helping hire and mentor new editors and finally Project Unbolt, focused on four pilot newsrooms shortly before I left the company last year.

I wouldn’t describe any of those efforts as a complete success, and I know none of them was a complete failure. However much we succeeded, I learned a lot and blogged a lot about what we did.

Michele McLellan, one of the Scripps consultants on the project, knew of my transformation efforts and gave me an advance copy of the report, so I’m going to share some observations here.

During the Scripps project, a corporate restructuring resulted in a merger of the Scripps newspapers with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to create Journal Media Group. Since the Journal Sentinel wasn’t involved in the Four Platform Newsroom project, I will refer to the group here as Scripps. The company consulted with the Knight Digital Media Center at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Today’s Digital Leads report was produced and released by KDMC.

I have visited only one of the eight Scripps newsrooms where the transformation is considered to be working, and that was just briefly years ago. So my knowledge of the changes at Scripps is based solely on reading the report. As a result, I’m not going to praise or criticize specifics of what Scripps newsrooms have achieved or attempted. Instead, I’m going to summarize the 10 keys of the report, with some highlights from the report and advice for other newsrooms undertaking their own transformations: (more…)

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Pew mobile graphic

Graphic from State of the Media 2015, Pew Research Center

I try not to say “I told you so” here (in fact, I just checked and the phrase never appeared on this blog until now).

But, as I read the State of the Media 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, I am struck by the growth in mobile advertising, from $416 million (with an m) in 2009 to $19 billion (with a b) in 2014. In five years, that’s an increase of 4,500 percent, and mobile advertising has surpassed print newspaper advertising, which is just under $17 billion.

I told you so. Back in 2009, when smartphones were still new, tablets were not even new yet and no one dominated mobile advertising, I called for news organizations to pursue a mobile-first strategy. We had a chance then. Digital giants like Google and Facebook were fumbling around in mobile. We could have and should have been the mobile leaders in our communities and in digital media.

I advocated making mobile the top priority at the company where I worked in 2009 and subsequent companies, and publicly on the blog and at media conferences. Maybe I provided a nudge here or there to increase mobile awareness, but I can’t think of a single legacy media company that became anything close to mobile-first.

Pew’s 2010 State of the Media report (covering 2009 developments), not only didn’t have any sections dealing with mobile, the word didn’t appear in the overview, major trends or online summary essay. The only reference to “mobile” in the key findings section was to distinguish Internet radio from using radio in your car.

In this year’s report, the lead is: “Call it a mobile majority.” The report focuses heavily on mobile media and notes that 39 of the 50 leading digital news sites get most of their traffic from mobile devices. And the report tells who’s dominating mobile advertising: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pandora and Apple combine for 64 percent of mobile display advertising. Not a news organization in the group.

By the way, Google’s CEO at the time, Eric Schmidt, proclaimed a “mobile-first” strategy in February 2010, less than three months after I urged news organizations to take that direction. Guess who moved faster and smarter down the mobile path.

My point here is not to boast, though I will do that later. I think the opportunity was obvious back then and I wasn’t particularly insightful to notice it. My point is to help colleagues in the news business learn from a huge mistake and pursue similar opportunities if they exist now.

Opportunities in 2015

So what are similar opportunities now? I don’t see anything with growth potential as huge and obvious as mobile and social media were six years ago. Someone smarter than me might see opportunities I don’t list here, but these are areas with potential to grow in use, with possibilities for news and revenue:

Wearables. The Apple Watch has made a splash but doesn’t seem to be the must-have multi-use product that the iPhone became when it debuted. Google Glass didn’t take off, but I suspect some glasses-like product will return. Fitness devices are popular, but it would take a big change in their use to provide a significant opportunity for news and advertising revenue. I think these products and other wearables that may follow together present an opportunity for news organizations. But you need to move quickly and creatively or the tech companies will dominate here, too.

Location. I still think location-based news, advertising and commerce remain an area with great potential that no one has mastered yet. (I had hopes for Foursquare, but it never took off the way I thought it could.)

Transactions. This was a huge failure of the thinking of news organizations, which thought narrowly about advertising and subscriptions as the ways you made money. News media companies would be healthy now if we had developed effective local digital marketplaces that sold products and gift certificates, made reservations and otherwise make local cash registers ring (beep, actually, but some clichés don’t update). I think local transaction-focused advertising and local search (which should go together) still hold potential, though giants such as Google and Amazon have snapped up some of the opportunities I used to see there.

Social media. News organizations have mostly done a miserable job using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram to engage their communities, expand their audience and generate revenue. They can certainly benefit from improving their performance with those established social tools. But if social media presents a huge opportunity today, it’s probably in some newer tool such as Snapchat, Yik Yak, Periscope, Meerkat or something yet to come out (with a limit of one post per day, I don’t see a great opportunity for news organizations in This.).

Video and podcasts. We still have not developed all the video possibilities for content and revenue. And, as the Pew report noted, podcasts are making a comeback.

Live coverage. Few news organizations have embraced live coverage routinely, as I have advocated, and fewer still have made serious, creative efforts to develop the commercial possibilities of live coverage (including entirely commercial live content).

Memberships. I have always thought membership was a better way to get community revenue than paywalls. We’re seeing some small membership efforts, but I think we can do more.

Events. News organizations are working on developing events as a supporting revenue stream. I doubt they can become the primary source for many news operations, and the bigger they get, the more they present potential conflicts between promotion and news coverage. But they need mention here as a revenue source that can and should grow.

Native advertising or content marketing. I put this last not because it has the least potential, but because news organizations are working harder on this than some of the others. I don’t think we’ve developed all the possibilities here, though, and I suspect that potential advertisers don’t really need news media to get these messages out. Public-relations and advertising companies and corporate communication departments are working on reaching potential customers directly with their messages, and I suspect they will succeed more and faster here than news organizations will.

What other areas have potential that news organizations should explore? I’m sure I am missing some.

Just as mobile received scant attention in the 2010 Pew report, don’t look for a lot on these topics in the 2015 report. Only podcasting gets its own section. Pew reports annually on how the media are (newspapers continuing to decline, mixed results for TV, yada, yada), and the media aren’t pursuing any of these opportunities aggressively enough.

My mobile vision in 2009-10

Six years ago this week, when I published my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, a vision for a different kind of media company, I cited the important of the mobile opportunity in my introduction:

We need to look at mobile opportunities and email opportunities as well as print and web. And we should watch for new opportunities as new technology presents new ways to connect. We should explore every possibility for providing people the news and information they want when they want it, whether that means email, text message, RSS feed, Twitter feed, social media, iPod, game device, GPS device or some other way of interaction.

In retrospect, my original C3 plan should have had a stronger mobile emphasis, though mobile opportunities were clear in parts of it, such as my suggestion about driving. The urgency and potential of the mobile opportunity became more clear to me later in 2009.

On Aug. 31, 2009, I called on newspapers to help local businesses pursue mobile opportunities. I said we should take the lead in developing mobile coupons and other forms of mobile commerce:

We need to devise ways to help local businesses sell their products and services to people on the move. We need to teach local businesses how to connect with people who are always connected. We need to develop mobile formats for news content, community information, databases, calendars, advertising and other services for users and for businesses. …

We spend too much time reliving the mistakes we’ve made in the past. Let’s not make mobile one of them.

By Nov. 20, 2009, my “mobile-first strategy” had taken clear shape:

News organizations are belatedly, reluctantly and often awkwardly pursuing “web-first” strategies. As we fight these web battles, I am increasingly coming to believe that “web first” is what the military would call fighting the last war. News organizations need a mobile-first strategy. …

We can’t waste that much time in mastering the mobile market. We need to start thinking mobile first. Now. The world is moving swiftly to smart phones and we can’t afford to be as far behind this time (in truth, it’s too late to be ahead, but not too late to pursue opportunities that can lead us to a prosperous future). We need to make mobile innovation the top priority and the first thing we think of when we plan change in our organizations.

(I should note that web-first meant content would be published online before in the print edition, and that the organization should start thinking first about the web, though most didn’t, regardless of what they were saying. When I say we must shift to a mobile-first strategy, I’m not talking about where content appears when, but about the priorities of the organization: what you place first in your thinking and acting.) …

If we wait until nearly everyone has some sort of smart phone, someone else will be filling the roles that we can and should fill. …

Whatever your role in your media organization, consider how you would change your work, your priorities and your thinking to support a mobile-first strategy. This will either be our future or our next squandered opportunity.

My next mobile-first post elaborated on how news organizations should change their work and structure. Here’s part of what I said about technology, sales and marketing:


… Don’t think of apps just as devices for delivery of your content. Apps should become a revenue source, too. Just as newspaper and television companies help business customers produce advertisements for their products, a mobile-first organization is going to help business customers develop mobile apps to promote their businesses and sell their products and services. Many of the aspects of the mobile-first approach will require shifting resources from current print, broadcast or web operations to mobile operations. But development and deployment of commercial applications will produce revenue to support eventual expansion of mobile operations.

Development of commercial applications will need to stress applications whose content can be updated easily by merchants. For instance, if a local pizza parlor has an application for ordering pizzas for pickup or delivery, the operator should be able to update prices or add new ingredients or menu items easily from an office computer, so that applications will update automatically when a user next opens the pizza application.


Sales staffs need to listen to consumers and businesses and learn how to help businesses serve the mobile audience. In the early stages of a mobile-first organization, sales efforts will be focused heavily on educating and training business customers on mobile opportunities and our organization’s role in connecting businesses in our community with mobile customers.

Traditional advertising was intrusive and often unwelcome. You open your newspaper to continue reading a page-one story and photos of women in bras attempted to catch your eye about the lingerie sale at the local department store. Or you tune in the evening newscast and ads for local car dealers shout at you between the news reports. We still need to sell those ads because they deliver value for businesses in traditional ways and because they are the revenue streams that keep us operating today. But mobile revenue will keep us operating tomorrow and, as I have blogged before, we need to learn how to help businesses pursue mobile opportunities.

Mobile commercial content will be convenient and responsive, rather than intrusive. Search advertising provides the answer that the potential customer was seeking. Location-based advertising should not be intrusive or people will devise ways to turn it off. Our community apps and sites need to provide location-based tabs such as “shop nearby,” “dine nearby” or “nearby entertainment.” The user can ignore those tabs if she knows where she wants to go and just wants information on parking, for instance. But a user who clicks on such a tab welcomes our help (and the help of businesses paying us for access to these customers).

As described in the C3 revenue approach, we need to be sure we don’t fall into the trap of focusing just on advertising. Some of the best mobile opportunities will go much deeper than simply delivering business messages to an audience. We may make the sale, using a customer’s credit card (or possibly an account with us that taps into a credit card, checking account or prepaid balance). We may make a reservation or enroll a user in a class or a business’s preferred customers club. We may send the business an inquiry from the customer.

We also need to be careful not to use just a single mobile tool, such as a mobile web site or iPhone application. Some businesses may want to sponsor breaking news alerts, reaching the text-message audience with a link to the company’s web site or to its enhanced listing in our business directory. Some may want to sponsor a podcast or an email newsletter, reaching people wherever they access email.

Sales staff will need training in how mobile opportunities can work and how to teach a local business to pursue those opportunities. While we need to be willing to invest heavy sales staff time in landing accounts and in training businesses to use their apps, we also need to design self-serve mobile accounts that the business customer can change and update after we get them launched, as described in the pizza example in the technology section.

We need to develop pricing that helps businesses use our mobile services. We can’t discount services that we know will be valuable. We need an affordable base rate, with most of our pay based on performance as we deliver for our business customers. For instance, in the pizza example, we need to charge a reasonable fee for development of the app. But most of our revenue will come from pizza orders (of course the app needs to record orders accurately for both us and the business customer). We may collect the revenue ourselves from customers’ debit and credit cards, taking our cut before we pass most of it along to the pizza parlor. Or the merchant may collect the money (in this example, we might want to leave an option of paying cash) and we invoice for our fee. Or we may use a third party such as PayPal to handle the transaction.

More and more, we need to sell customers into a full range of services. We sell them an enhanced listing in the business directory, so we can connect them with customers searching for the services they offer. We help them determine the best way to use our services to move the customer toward the transaction or to actually make the sale. We sell them location-based premium listings. We develop an app for them and help them deliver the app to the phones (or other devices) of the right customers. Yes, web, print and broadcast advertising will be part of the package for some customers, too, but we can’t just call on our usual suspects. Location-based advertising will appeal to some merchants who haven’t been interested in reaching the full community through a newspaper or TV ad, but absolutely want to reach the person who’s nearby at lunch time.


News companies know how to market newspapers and newscasts. We shouldn’t stop marketing those products and our web sites, but the mobile-first organization will have a mobile-first marketing department. The community knows about the legacy products and will continue to find them with a reduced marketing effort.

We will need an aggressive (and vastly different) marketing effort to tell the community about all the ways we serve your mobile audience. The effective marketing strategy needs at least a two-pronged approach: sophisticated and witty to alert the savvy mobile customer to our services and simple and educational to teach the new or confused mobile customer how many jobs we can help her with. …

We need to work aggressively in sales channels to get our apps onto people’s phones. Obviously we need to use iPhone’s App Store. We also need to connect with local retailers selling phones and other mobile devices, perhaps offering free apps that introduce and promote our apps or offering to load our package of apps on each phone sold (perhaps as part of a deal that includes advertising for the retailer). We can offer classes in the community on how to use our location-based services and our applications. …

I continued on the theme in 2010:

  • I suggested an idea for a mobile project news organizations could undertake to engage their communities effectively on mobile devices with news and revenue opportunities. I had proposed the project for Gazette Communications and the 2010 Orange Bowl, where Hawkeye fans would be in Miami in large numbers, out of reach of our newspaper and TV station, but carrying their phones. The company didn’t give it a try. I outlined the idea publicly and on the blog for the 2010 American Society of News Editors conference, but I’m not aware of anyone who tried it. I followed up the post outlining the project idea with a Q&A from questions the editors asked.
  • I used Gordon Borrell’s projections for growth of mobile revenue (they were actually conservative) to show how huge the opportunity was.

More recently, I stressed the importance of mobile in my advice for new Digital First Media editors and in Project Unbolt and in the INMA’s Culture Change blog. But culture changes slowly, and I can’t point to a legacy media organization that has excelled in mobile the way that it should.

I wish I saw an opportunity today as huge as mobile was in 2009 and 2010. Without a doubt, Google, Facebook, Apple and the other digital giants were going to seize huge chunks of that $19 billion. But news organizations had a chance to beat them into the mobile space and grab a big part of a revenue stream that has surpassed newspaper advertising.

We acted too timidly in our pursuit of mobile, and we spent energy on defensive measures such as paywalls. I’m not saying the opportunity has passed. But catching up usually isn’t as lucrative as leading the way.

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Facebook logo copyI blame Facebook’s crappy iPad app for this blog post.

I actually thought of the topic for this post before falling asleep around 11 p.m. That’s when I read the New York Times story about the Times and other news organizations considering and negotiating a deal to publish content on Facebook rather than on their own sites.

I have a busy day planned today (even if I am stuck in the hospital, I’m working and I have class today, plus many other chores awaiting me). So that post might have gone unwritten.

But something woke me up around 2 a.m. If you’ve spent much time in the hospital, you understand. And before trying to get back to sleep, I tried to answer a question on my iPad in a Facebook discussion. And Facebook’s iPad sucks so bad that I had to abandon the iPad, then redo and finish my answer on the laptop. And then, I had to blog about Facebook. Piss me off in the middle of the night when I’d rather be sleeping, and I will blog about you, even if I have to finish grumpy in the daylight.

Part of my initial response to skepticism about the wisdom of getting into bed with Facebook would have been to note that newspapers have been dependent on (at the mercy of?) other businesses my whole career. Other media are dependent, too, but I will focus here mostly on newspapers. Part of my argument would have noted that the dependency on Facebook was likely to cause problems (as it has before), but I was probably going to come down on the side of saying I might be exploring or testing such a relationship myself if I were the New York Times, BuzzFeed or National Geographic, the companies apparently in such discussions with Facebook.

But then I got pissed off at the Facebook app in the middle of the night, and thought of how dependence on external carriers was a bad decision for the Kansas City Star and Times decades ago, and I had to start blogging in the middle of the night about why publishers should be cautious about increasing their dependence on Facebook. (more…)

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