Wednesday, March 18, 2015

'Every journalist has to be a user-experience designer'

Maria Ramirez of El Español interviews Gideon Lichfield.
(Photo: TIE Comunicación/Congreso Periodismo)

HUESCA, Spain -- A digital business publication like Quartz qz.com would seem to be making all the right moves. In just over two years it built an audience of 10.9 million unique users a month.

But the struggle is to continue growing amid heavy competition and to start turning a profit. So Quartz's senior editor, Gideon Lichfield, was looking for answers and ideas just like the other 350 journalists, professors, and students attending the XVI Digital Journalism Congress. He was also on the program to talk about Quartz, including its plans for expansion into Africa.

Win the competition

Lichfield worked for The Economist for 16 and knows both the print and digital worlds. Digital requires journalists to think more about the audience, he told me in an interview. "How people consume the journalism, how it reaches them, when they're reading it and so forth, that is completely different," he said. "In a print magazine, you don't really think about any of that. The formats are set.

"In digital, every journalist also has to be a user-experience designer to some extent. They have to be thinking about how is someone going to come across my article, what's going to make them read it, what's going to make them share it, what's going to make them get to the end. What sort of device are they going to be reading it on. What time of day might they be reading it. What methods could I be using other than text to get my point across more clearly, more efficiently."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

In Spain, two digital journalism success stories

Ignacio Escolar, left, of El Diario and Pedro J. Ramirez of El Español (photo: James Breiner)
HUESCA, Spain -- Two of the leading figures of the digital media revolution took the stage together and chatted about what it is like to wear the hats of journalist, shareholder, owner, and chief salesman of their respective media outlets.

Both had founded important print newspapers. Both had turned to digital media in search of independence from the control of public discourse exerted by the political and business elite. Both are evangelists for making better journalism to build a better society.

And both had achieved remarkable financial successes with innovative business models for digital media. A packed auditorium at the XVI Digital Journalism Congress wanted to hear how they did it.

'Partners' not subscribers

"How did we get here?" asked Ignacio Escolar, 39, who founded El Diario ("The Daily") in 2012 with a handful of journalists who had been laid off or cast aside by traditional media in the financial crisis. "We're journalists, shareholders, directors, and chief promoters because we were pushed into starting our own media companies."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A finger in the eye for Spanish journalists

Arsenio Escolar, photo by 20minutos
Versión en español

HUESCA, Spain -- At first, there was timid, nervous applause from the journalists, professors, and students who were listening to harsh criticism from a respected colleague, Arsenio Escolar, the editor of 20minutos, a free distribution daily that is one of Spain's major digital outlets.

Maybe they were recognizing themselves among those who were being criticized.

In a call to arms, Escolar urged Spanish journalists to stop being so obsequious to the powerful and to call attention to growing inequality and poverty.

"We need a journalism that is fair, transparent, distant from power, ethical, and social," he concluded in the inaugural address at the XVI Digital Journalism Congress in this resort town in northeast Spain.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Universities and entrepreneurship don´t always mix

BRISTOL, England -- A few years ago, I was on a team designing a master's degree in digital journalism. The university required that we propose three areas of research for the professors in this program to pursue.

One subject area we proposed was new business models for news. Another was the use of social networks in distribution of news. I forget the third. All three were rejected by the university's academic authority because they were not on the list of approved areas of research, and it appeared that we could not launch the program.

However, we appealed to the vice chancellor, who persuaded the academic authorities that an innovative university program could (and should) include areas of research not on the approved list.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reader loyalty gains strength as a news metric

Michael McCutcheon of Mic.com
As the publisher of a business newspaper in Baltimore, I used to tell advertisers confidently that no other news medium could duplicate our audience of CEOs, business owners, and high-income decision makers.

First Yahoo Finance undermined us. With their user database, they could deliver advertisers the same people who were reading our newspaper, plus many with that profile who were not.

Now social networks like Facebook are using their data to do the same thing. They can promise to deliver that same targeted audience a lot cheaper.

This is bad news for news publishers, especially since they have become more dependent on Facebook and other social networks for their Internet traffic. Publishers have a harder time establishing the value of their brand to advertisers.

Pew Research reported in 2014 that 30 percent of U.S. adults get news from Facebook. That percentage has been growing, and other social networks, such as LinkedIn, are trying to become publishers, not just platforms, as Mathew Ingram of Gigaom has reported.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

1.5 million page views a month for journalism of ideas

Angel Alayon, photo by James Breiner
Versión en español.

Angel Alayon is an economist in one of the craziest economies in the world, Venezuela, where inflation is more than 60 percent annually. It is awash in petroleum yet has chronic shortages of milk.

And he is a journalist in a country whose government has been censoring enemies by buying them up and turning them into pro-government mouthpieces or cutting their supplies of newsprint.

Add to that, only 41 percent of the population are Internet users. So he is used to challenges. Maybe that is why he has been undaunted about creating a website with the unsexy concept of journalism of ideas,  ProDaVinci.

With a full-time staff of only three, ProDaVinci has monthly traffic averaging 1.5 million page views to articles about economics, art, literature, science, and technology.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Freedom of the press for those who own one (or a search engine or a social network)

A renowned media critic sounded the alarm in 1960 about corporate takeovers of newspapers and layoffs of hundreds of journalists. He worried that the power of the press was being concentrated in too few hands.

Liebling, from Slate.com
It was in his column in the New Yorker, The Wayward Press, that A.J. Liebling tossed off one of his most memorable lines in a parenthetical aside:
"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one" (New Yorker, May 14, 1960, p. 109, paywall). 

What is still true today is that corporate owners of newspapers are focused on maintaining their profit margins and are laying off journalists to do so. The newspaper and magazine industries have lost 54,000 journalism jobs since 2003.

But it is no longer true that newspapers monopolize production and distribution of news. The Internet has given everyone with a computer and Internet access their own printing press. You do not have to be a mogul to publish your opinions. The big question is can you get anyone to listen.