Saturday, July 18, 2015

Digital publication 'flirts with the Dark Side' in Spain

El Pais announces the alliance on its website.
A digital culture publication that is popular with young people in Spain, Jot Down, has joined forces (link in Spanish) with the country's leading daily newspaper, El Pais, to publish and distribute a monthly supplement called Jot Down Smart. 

In addition, El Pais's digital edition will publish two Jot Down articles daily. 

This is a big deal. Jot Down is four years old and has captured a youth market that El Pais would love to have. Jot Down's own irreverent announcement of the alliance was headlined "Jot Down flirts with the dark side." It reported its own audience as 800,000 unique users monthly based on its own Google Analytics compared with 14 million for El Pais based on ComScore.

I had not heard of Jot Down until a few months ago when my students at the University of Navarra began mentioning it to me as an example of independent digital publishing. 

Jot Down has had a quarterly version in print since 2013. El Pais has been losing circulation and advertising revenue consistently in recent years from the combined impact of the digital revolution and the global financial crisis.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An exercise on usability puts theory into practice

At the end of a semester-long course in digital journalism, I asked my students at the University of Navarra in Spain to say what they thought was the most interesting or useful part of the course. The survey was anonymous, so I give it some credibility.

The question was open-ended. The second-most-mentioned item was a class exercise I gave them in which they had to judge the navigability, usability, transparency, and other factors of any website they liked. This group exercise put theory into practice and developed their analytical skills.

(No. 1 was the video interviews with digital media entrepreneurs from Latin America. They are in Spanish and can be seen on my YouTube channel. Accompanying text in English is available elsewhere on this blog.)
The exercise took 45 minutes and followed a 45-minute lecture on the theory of Internet design, especially as it applied to taking advantage of mobile and social platforms.

First, I told the students that they were going to do an ungraded analysis of various characteristics of a website or application. They could do it in groups of three or four. I showed the students a list of about a dozen websites that I knew were popular but told them they could also choose any that they liked.

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.