Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nonprofit journalism tries to make it in Spain

PorCausa is a new species of digital media for Spain: nonprofit journalism.

Its founder and director, Gumersindo Lafuente, is a respected veteran of some of Spain's most important media -- El País, El Mundo, and the late lamented digital pioneer Soitu.es). Given the limited resources available, he runs the operation much in the style of a movie director by signing some of the 21 affiliated professionals on a per-project basis. 

gumersindo lafuente burgos iredes
Lafuente emulates Propublica of the U.S. (Photo: James Breiner)
"When we secure financing, we put together a team for the project. When we finish, we dissolve the team," he said in an interview.

Poverty and inequality

PorCausa is an experiment in several senses. It is not a news medium but a foundation that was launched in 2013. It is a novelty in Spain in that it is financed completely by private donations.

It is an experiment in subject matter. Its specialty is two topics, inequality and poverty, especially childhood poverty. The founders (a list, in Spanish) believe that these topics have been neglected by the major media in Spain ("The crisis of childhood poverty", in Spanish). No cats on skateboards.

Monday, June 22, 2015

'Desktop is the new print' as public goes mobile

Julio Alonso, director general WeblogsSL (James Breiner photo)
BURGOS, Spain -- In 2004, management consultant Julio Alonso got the itch to write about gadgets and technology. He started a blog and a year later that evolved into the website Xataka.

Since then he and his partners have built WeblogsSL, a community of 36 websites in Spanish with more than 13 million unique visitors a month. The sites focus on autos, lifestyle, business, leisure, and technology.

They have survived the global financial crisis, which hit particularly hard in Spain. And they have expanded their websites to Mexico and recently Colombia.



However, Alonso, 45, struggles with what to do about the latest tsunami of change. The audience has flooded to mobile devices and advertisers are going with them. He has more than a decade of experience in the business of digital media, and an international perspective, having studied in Holland and worked in Brazil and Italy, among other places.

Still, he and his team have their doubts. "The question of how we should migrate to mobile is crucial. We have internal debates about whether the mobile users read in the same way as desktop users, if we have to provide the same contents, if the way we slice up the articles should be different. The times when they consume are different. It is not the same to be seated at a desk at work or at home as to be standing on a commuter train looking at a smartphone."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mobile metrics are failing publishers and advertisers

According to eMarketer, half the digital ad spending this year will be on mobile, a total of $29 billion.

Advertisers want to know if their messages are reaching the right target groups of people at the right time so that ad dollars are not wasted. Some people are better targets than others for messages about, say, infant car seats, or trips to Mexico, or eye makeup, or Hummers.

It is not a simple matter to measure Internet traffic, whether on the web or on mobile apps. But metrics matter to advertisers, who use them to determine the amount they are willing to pay for having their messages in a digital publication.

Advertisers want to know not only the size of the audience, but its characteristics -- income, location, interests, spending habits, hobbies, and more.

But for technical reasons, it is difficult to track a single user across all the devices they may use at home, at work or on the go -- smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop. Cookies, those bits of information placed on your browser when you visit a web site, are great for tracking people and giving hints about what they are searching for and are interested in, but not when they move into the world of mobile devices and applications. (The technical reasons are explained in a TechCrunch article by Chris Maddern.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

8 practices of successful entrepreneurial journalists

Editor's note: This post was updated 3 June with an eighth best practice.

For the last seven years I have been interviewing and profiling successful entrepreneurial journalists in various countries of various  socieconomic classes. I've talked to publishers and editors with staffs of as many as a hundred as well as some one-man/one-woman bands.

The ones that survive and thrive after several years share some common practices:

1. They develop multiple sources of revenue. They embrace sponsorships rather than advertising, memberships rather than subscription paywalls. They recognize that they can't make money on standard cost-per-thousand or cost-per-click advertising rates. They seek sponsors who embrace their mission and core values. They monetize their audience by creating clubs or groups of members who support their journalism mission. They can actually charge much more than a subscriber would ever pay.

Among other revenue sources: direct sale of products such as books, music, clothing; creation and management of websites and social media channels for third parties; creation of content for blogs and websites; consulting on digital media; sale of data; foundations; events; crowdfunding; and more (12 revenue sources for digital media organizations).

2. They build communities around high-quality contents. They satisfy a need of their users or help them solve a problem. Eldiario.es of Spain has created a type of club of 10,800 partners who pay 60 euros a year and receive certain benefits, such as access to articles a few hours before non-partners. However, access to the site is free, so what they are really paying for, says founder Ignacio Escolar, is to support high-quality watchdog  journalism that is free of political influence. Although these users represent only 2 tenths of 1 percent of the 6 million monthly users, they are enough to provide 570,000 euros and a third of the annual revenues (his financial report to readers, in Spanish). The site has a staff of 40, and growing.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Professors of The Book, students of The Smartphone

Photo from U.S. News & World Report
The Internet is a revolutionary tool of communication. Because of that, teachers of communication have to face up to the possibility that our models for teaching and learning are becoming less effective and relevant.

Like many of my teaching colleagues, I have complained that students don't read. Well, they do read, but in a different way.

To understand the trend, we should step back and look at another communications tool that was revolutionary in its own day -- the Book.

(Versión en español)

For at least 500 years, research and teaching at universities has been built around the Book. We teachers of communication are still People of the Book while our students are People of the Internet.

The professor and journalist Jose Cervera explains the difference (in Spanish) in a brief article called "In Praise of the User", on his blog, El Retiario (The Net Warrior), published on Spain's public television website. El Retiario comes from the Roman name for gladiators who used a net as one of their armaments.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Advice from a Spanish satirist: "Don't open a bullfighting school in London"

Eduardo Galan, "Emperor" of Revista Mongolia

BURGOS, Spain -- Eduardo Galan is a bundle of contradictions. He has a Ph.D. in psychology, specifically the psychology of marketing.

(Versión en español)

He has a background in online business marketing. And he speaks very seriously about business models for marketing a media product.

Yet he has the playful air of an adolescent who delights in mocking the pretensions and hypocrisies of Spain's political, business, and religious leaders, which he does in the satirical monthly Revista Mongolia.

Onstage at the iRedes Iberoamerican Conference on Social Networks, he delighted the audience of several hundred with off-color jokes and humorous asides. In an interview with me afterwards, though, he sounded like any other media executive struggling to make a buck amid fierce competition.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Deal with the Devil: Facebook, Google, mobile apps


It was the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And clearly many people think that way about applications for smartphones.
 
Mobile apps can show us detailed maps of most places on earth. 
 
They can read QR codes that tell us when the next bus is coming to this stop. 
 
They alert us to the scores of sporting events we care about. 
 
They allow us to send text messages, free, to billions of people anywhere in the world (WhatsApp and WeChat users alone account for nearly 2 billion).
 
So we willingly give ourselves over to these services that do all these amazing things for us. Often we sign in to them using our Facebook or Google or Twitter accounts, thereby giving those social network platforms access to information about our preferences for products, who are friends are, where we are dining, and how we are amusing ourselves.