Monday, January 20, 2020

Collaboration emerges as an effective business model

 Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said just before signing the Declaration of Independence, "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

News publishers have taken this idea to heart with a trend toward collaborating as a means of survival when so many economic forces are working against them. Collaboration, rather than competition, allows small, vulnerable news organizations to spread the risk and cost of journalism that challenges the powers that be and serves the public interest. 

When they collaborate, small newsrooms get access to at least three scarce resources: time, in the form of help from other organizations; expertise, in the form of people who know how to do things they don't; and money, because the combined organizations can sometimes attract grants that none of them could by themselves.

One example: Nieman Lab reported on the Institute for Nonprofit News's collaborative investigation on the lack of hospitals and health care services in rural America. Twelve news organizations in seven states participated.

Hospitals in rural areas of the U.S. have been closing as population declines, much as local news media have been disappearing. The Institute for Nonprofit News, founded 10 years ago, has 230 members and promotes sharing of resources and expertise that support investigative journalism in the public interest. The funding comes from a variety of national and local foundations and nonprofits.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The winning business strategy builds on relationships

This blog entry was written for IJNet.org, Tips for Journalists in 2020  from other Knight International Journalism fellows.

The losing strategy that seeks mass audiences and mass advertising as measured by unique users and page views has led many media to chase clicks with ever-more sensationalistic content about celebrities, sports figures, imprudent politicians and sex scandals.

Those sites will continue to lose revenue and audience to the search and social platforms, as well as credibility and trustworthiness.

If you build a relationship with your audience, they are more likely to become loyal, to trust your work, to recommend your work, and to be willing to pay to support your mission. The total audience will be smaller, and the percentage willing to pay for your content might be in the single digits, but this public-service, user-focused strategy builds trust and credibility for the long term. Examples are Mediapart in France, eldiario.es in Spain, Animal Politico in Mexico and The Texas Tribune in the U.S.

Versión en español


Here’s a tip: build your email subscriber list. This way you own a relationship with your users, and you can avoid using the search and social platforms as an intermediary. Tailor newsletters for these email subscribers according to their interests and tastes. Other examples of relationship tactics include crowdsourced stories, face-to-face and online events, reader polls, crowdfunding and WhatsApp and Telegram group chats. Read more, in Spanish, about how two websites are monetizing their email newsletters

Related:

Why most publisher paywalls are destined to fail
Publishers pivot toward users and credibility

Friday, November 29, 2019

Why most publisher paywalls are destined to fail

Picard: News organizations need to focus on creating value for users

Picard: Your content has to be exclusive and specialized.
Now that Google, Facebook, and other tech platforms have taken away most of their ad revenue, news publishers are realizing they need to get revenues from users to stay afloat.

Well, good luck with that. Most of the paywalls or freemium products they have created are doomed to disappointment.

Publishers will have trouble breaking their bad habits. They have been so busy delivering mass audiences to advertisers with increasingly frivolous or sensationalistic content, or delivering profits to investors by cutting key editorial staff, that they may not have the know-how or talent to produce content valuable enough that people will pay for it.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

My newsstand guy is quitting, victim of digital media

PAMPLONA, Spain -- For the past five years I have been buying my newspapers on the weekend at a neighborhood newsstand. The owner and I, Jesus Erro, got to be casual friends, and we talked about the politics and culture of our respective countries. He is a big reader.

Sign in the window announces the owner is retiring and closing the shop.
This weekend, I found out he is closing his doors and retiring after 27 years at that location. Nobody wanted to buy the business, and he had reached the legal age to retire, 62. His son is a teenager, and his wife works for the local government, and he plans to focus on them. But beyond that, he isn't sure what he will do.  

Versión en español

Three years ago, I interviewed him to get his perspective on the newspaper business in Spain. All the dailies were suffering at that time. It had been in a steady decline since 2008, first because of the financial crisis and then because of consumers' switching to digital platforms to get their news. Lately, it has gotten even worse.

Erro loves books, and his original idea when he bought the shop was to sell books. Newspapers were just a sideline. With the crisis, he also took to selling bread since lots of cafes and bakeries opened up nearby and also sold the local newspapers.

Below is a video of our 2016 interview, with subtitles in English.



On Tuesday, Nov. 19, Erro will close for the last time. He had a clearance sale going on. I bought an armload of National Geographic specials on science and archeology.

There are few nearby places to buy the national press, so I'm not sure what I will do. I still like the printed editions, especially on the weekends when there is a lot more to read.

Most of all, I'm going to miss our conversations.

Here is a link to our original interview: Newsstand owner adapts to survive media crisis

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Vargas Llosa says democracy is the best defense against propaganda and nationalism

His latest historical novel tells of CIA misinformation campaign

Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel laureate in literature, has just published a historical novel, Tough Times ("Tiempos recios"), whose plot is based on the 1954 overthrow of the democratically elected government in Guatemala that was engineered by the CIA. 

Vargas Llosa,  Photo by llegim.ara.cat
For the novelist, that conspiracy has many echoes today in the status of news media organizations and the abundance of information and disinformation available to the general public.

During a publicity tour in Spain, Vargas Llosa gave an interview to El Pais, arguably the country's most prestigious daily. He said that the 1954 coup in Guatemala was masterminded for the CIA by a public relations expert named Edward L. Bernays, whose nickname was "the clever puppetmaster". Bernays's philosophy of communication could be boiled down to a phrase: propaganda will prevail over the truth.

In fact, the media campaign described in the novel was based on what really happened. A propaganda campaign persuaded the elite of Boston "that the interests of the United Fruit Company are the same as the United States, and that the recently inaugurated democracy of Guatemala puts them in jeopardy because of their dependence on the Kremlin". In fact, Soviet influence was exaggerated or non-existent; the government's land policies threatened United Fruit's business interests.

Versión en español

Friday, October 11, 2019

Letters to a newspaper publisher III: A shameful scandal right under your nose

How should a media executive manage the business during a time of disruptive technological change? Alfonso Nieto attempted to answer that question in his book "Letters to a newspaper publisher," written in 1987 when newsrooms in Spain were moving from typewriters to computers. His comments have acute relevance today.  

Alfonso Nieto, photo University of Navarra
In this letter to a fictitious newspaper publisher, titled "A Shameful Scandal", Alfonso Nieto criticizes media executives who are focused only on the bottom line without paying attention to the quality of the content in their own publications. (The scandal is a defamation lawsuit against a reporter.)

Nieto also emphasizes the importance of hiring journalists with high ethical standards. "This profession is so prominent that it should exclude those of mediocre character who are untrustworthy, resentful, or selfish" (p. 58).

The top executives of the media organization have the responsibility to communicate clearly the editorial standards of the organization, Nieto says. Without that, there is disorder in the newsroom. In the absence of clear direction, each section editor creates their own fiefdom, and "this disorder is the key that opens the door to misinformation and mistakes" (pp. 59-60).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Experts explain 'How to make meetings less terrible'

The title of this blog post is taken from a Freakonomics Radio podcast by Steven J. Dubner, and I recommend listening to all 42 minutes of it. But if you can't find the time, here are some of the key points.

How terrible are meetings?
Steven Rogelberg, an organizational psychologist, says research has shown that around 70 percent of senior managers view meetings as unproductive. And these are typically the people calling the meetings.

The higher up the chain of command they go, executives attend more meetings. Rogelberg estimates most professionals in the U.S. attend 15 meetings a week."But what we know from the research is that left to just the standard protocols of people talking, that a decision better than what would have just been produced by the best individual in the room only occurs 20 percent of the time." He has written a book on the subject, The Surprising Science of Meetings.

Why are meetings so terrible?

Most meetings are done on a schedule, out of habit, and have no purpose, says Helen Schwartzman, an anthropologist at Northwestern University who wrote the book The Meeting: Gatherings in Organizations and Communities. "I would say that meetings are the organization. Which is to say that instead of having the meeting as a place to solve problems, we need to have problems and crises and decisions to produce meetings." If there are no problems to be solved, there is no reason to meet.