Thursday, April 21, 2016

Loyal users will pay for watchdog journalism

Kinsey Wilson. Photo by Mary Kang/Knight Center
AUSTIN, Texas -- One of the dirty little secrets in digital media is that the big numbers of page views and unique users touted by publishers are misleading at best. They overstate a publication's audience size and impact.

Most visitors to a publisher's content are fly-bys: They stay for only a few seconds. And even if they stay longer than that, the vast majority come to a publisher's website only once or twice a month. These are not loyal users devoted to a brand.

What is more interesting and meaningful, especially for publishers of serious news and information, is that the smaller number of loyal users -- who come frequently, linger, and read many pages -- is willing to pay for the content and other products. They identify strongly with the brand.

Kinsey Wilson, editor of innovation and strategy at the New York Times, brought the point home last week at the International Symposium on Online Journalism when he mentioned that 90 percent of  his publication's digital revenue comes from 10 percent of its users.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Panama Papers: Lone-wolf journalists form a pack

Investigative journalists have achieved a new level of sophistication and collaboration as shown by this explosive investigation of offshore tax havens used by the wealthy and powerful. 

The investigation by 109 media organizations from 76 countries has shaken government leaders from China to Russia to Great Britain. It has led to the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland, who used a tax haven to avoid paying taxes on 3.5 million euros. 

The 376 journalists on the Panama Papers team overcame many obstacles, not the least of which was their own competitiveness. All of these journalists and news organizations agreed not to publish any of their findings until the agreed upon time on Sunday April 3. 

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These journalists, who are accustomed to work like lone wolves and jealously keep their sources and information to themselves, had to "radically share" information with each other and overcome differences in language, culture, and practice. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

14,500 friends lay out cash for aggressive journalism

Amid all the bad news about business models for high-quality journalism, eldiario.es ("The Daily") in Spain shows that good journalism can be good business.

Escolar: "Journalism is a public service that has to be profitable"
Its founder and CEO, Ignacio Escolar, just announced that the publication finished 2015 with revenues of US$ 2.6 million, up 33% on the year, and a profit after taxes of US$ 235,000.

Although the digital publication is free, its 14,500 "partners" (socios) pay at least US$ 66 a year to get access to the news a few hours ahead of everyone else as well as ad-free pages, discounts, and invitations to events.

Those partners brought in about a third of eldiario.es's revenues, "And they allow us to remain independent," Escolar said in his announcement. Although advertising brings in more than the partner revenue, no single advertiser comes close to bringing in what the partners do, so none has enough leverage to influence editorial decisions, he said.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Is Facebook swallowing journalism? Embrace it, says Washington Post's digital chief

Emilio Garcia-Ruiz speaks to the press in Huesca. Photo by EFE
HUESCA, Spain -- Yes, it’s good to have a billionaire owner with patience, but it’s even better to have a billionaire owner with a vision.

And the vision of Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is that a news organization has to make its work available free, everywhere.

Bezos is urging the publication's journalists to adopt the principles of retail sales that he has learned over the years in running Amazon, America's largest online retailer of practically everything.

And the man who is putting that vision into practice is Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the Post's managing editor for digital.

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A fundamental concept in retail strategy is the sales funnel, Garcia-Ruiz said in his keynote address March 10 at the Digital Journalism Conference in Huesca, Spain. The idea is to get as many people as possible to sample your product (in journalism, it's through sharing in social networks), get them to pay for a product, and then make them repeat buyers for higher-value products. At each stage the pool of customers is smaller but spending more.

The key in a business sense, said Garcia-Ruiz, is to keep expanding that pool at the top of the funnel, just as Amazon has done in retail. And from a journalism perspective, the key is to merge the best journalism with the best technology to keep people coming back for more.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Your career is an adventure: Be an adventurer

Last week the Department of Communication at the University of Navarra invited 16 alumni with interesting career paths to share their stories with the students. 

I attended four of the sessions and heard a similar comment from each of the presenters: I never imagined that I would be doing the things I am doing now in my professional career. A journalism major was hired in public relations by a German automaker, partly because he learned German during a year of study abroad. Another journalism major's assignment to cover sporting events, in which he had little expertise, eventually led to assignments covering culture and entertainment, which he loves.

Many unimaginable opportunities presented themselves at unexpected moments from unlikely sources. Professional life for them had been an adventure.

Iñaki Gabilondo, Foto de biografiasyvidas.com
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The advice these alumni gave also ran along similar lines: You need to be flexible, learn at every stage of your career, and commit yourself to doing the best work you can.

These comments brought to mind an interview I heard a while ago with another graduate of the University of Navarra's journalism program, an icon of Spanish radio and television, Iñaki Gabilondo. He spent two decades at the head of one of Spain's most-listened-to daily news radio programs, anchored a nightly news program and today has a video commentary blog called the Voice of Iñaki (La voz de Iñaki, Spanish).

Sunday, February 28, 2016

New mobile platforms aid users, penalize publishers

News publishers are again the pawns in a chess game among the big technology platforms, mainly Google, Facebook, and Apple.

And while publishers are losing control of their future, users are gaining a better experience with pages that load faster on mobile devices.

This is the scenario that is emerging with the expanded rollout of Facebook's Instant Articles, Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages, and Apple's iOS9 and News products.

I have spent a weekend reading over expert commentaries on the business and technical aspects of the latest innovations in Internet technology. What all three of these innovations have in common is that they are aimed at serving mobile users better and that they claim to help publishers gain revenue, audience, and data about users. Many of the commentators are worried that publishers are losing out to the platforms.

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of the Verge, was warning back in November that the battle among Google, Facebook, and Apple to corral mobile users and advertisers would cause the most damage to independent digital publishers on the open Web.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Latin America spawns scores of innovative news sites

Latin America has spawned a rich breed of online news publishers who are challenging mainstream journalism. These digital natives have achieved significant influence by innovating with digital tools.

They often aim to provide an alternative to the traditional voice of mainstream media, which are usually linked to political and business interests that have long predominated in these countries.

"Digital-ness" of highly influential websites. 
These are among the findings of a new study of 67 native-born digital news publications by Ramon Salaverria of the University of Navarra (Spain) and Summer Harlow of Florida State University. The study, published in the journal Digital Journalism, is an ambitious effort to measure the innovation, influence, and goals of these 67 digital natives -- "Regenerating Journalism: Exploring the 'alternativeness' and 'digital-ness' of Online-Native Media in Latin America".

And while the scholars have not set out to create  a viral listicle a la Buzzfeed, they have created two tables in their article with fascinating detail, one of which I have condensed (at left).

The rankings of "digital-ness" are based on measurement of each site's use of multimedia, interactive elements, and degree of audience participation. All 10 listed here were rated as "highly influential" by the researchers, based on measuring their per-capita Facebook and Twitter following and their global ranking in the Alexa audience measurement service.

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