Thursday, May 31, 2018

Scientists battle for credibility on the web

It is not just journalists who are under attack in the digital world. Scientists have to deal with their own conspiracy theories hatched by the ignorant and malicious.

Online, science competes with fluff and bluff
When science enters the sphere of politics, religion, and business, the battle is on. In the 17th century, Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church for teaching that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Charles Darwin was heavily criticized by the Church of England in the 19th century for his theories of evolution. And the teaching of evolution is under attack today in U.S. schools.

The tobacco industry for decades successfully discredited science and scientists whose research linked smoking to cancer. The National Rifle Association has successfully lobbied Congress to prevent the Centers for Disease Control from doing research on firearms injuries and deaths.

And the New Republic recently chronicled how the new leaders of the EPA are discarding established scientific findings on air pollution, which pleases the coal and petroleum industries.

Climate change and vaccines

Today social media are an important battleground for science, although scientists don't always seem to know it. The increasingly popular online video format represents a powerful challenge to science credibility, particularly on the controversial issues of climate change and vaccines, as investigated in a series of studies edited by Bienvenido León (a colleague here at the University of Navarra) and Michael Bourk: "Communicating science and technology through online video: researching a new media phenomenon", (Routledge, New York, 2018, 140 pp.).

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Publishers pivot toward users and credibility, away from digital advertising

For those who could not attend the annual convention of the Spanish Journalism Society (SEP, Sociedad Española de Periodística, in Malaga, Spain, May 24-25, below is a summary of my keynote address, and here is a link to my slides (in Spanish).

The talk focused on two major trends in digital journalism that are taking place in many places around the world. The slides highlight examples of media from France, Holland, Mexico, the U.S., Germany, Peru, England, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, among others.

Photo by José María Legorburu

1. Publishers are pivoting toward users and away from advertisers and investors as their main source of financial support. The business model that depended on advertising to support journalism is moribund and nearly dead. The automated buying and selling of advertising is controlled by the duopoly of Google and Facebook, which have more and better data about news publishers' users than the publishers' themselves. Publishers have no way to compete with that dominance of programming and targeting of ads. It's time to burn the ships and not look back. 

2. Amid the flood of junk, misinformation, clickbait, and false information, the added value of a news organization will spring from its credibility. News media need to build credibility and trust by interacting more directly with their audiences, listening to their audiences, adopting transparency about their owners and investors, detailing their funding sources and spending practices, and, above all, doing investigative journalism that holds political and business leaders accountable for their actions. 


Because of these two trends, there are 10 new paradigms for digital journalism:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Users will own the media: how journalism is evolving

Alfredo Triviño has worked largely behind the scenes on some of the biggest digital media projects for some of the biggest brands in the world. But you might not have heard of him.

Alfredo Triviño: users will own the media, in every sense
He spent seven years in senior management roles at News Corp., ultimately as director of innovation, where he worked on development of a pay model for digital journalism and on long-term editorial and commercial growth strategies. (He is a 1999 graduate of the University of Navarra School of Communication, where I teach.)

He was invited to give the closing keynote address last week to the annual conference of the Spanish Journalism Society (SEP, Sociedad Española de Periodística). He ruminated casually about trends he sees in the worlds of digital journalism and digital commerce, mixing some English terminology into his Spanish presentation. Among the shifts he sees:

A shift from journalism and commerce to journalism vs. commerce. That is, the two will operate in separate worlds. Journalism will depend on the support of user communities rather than advertising. Brands will create their own digital media rather than publishing their messages on TV, radio, and in print.

Versión en español

A shift from paid editorial (subscriptions) to shared ownership. By this Triviño meant that groups of users will form around a topic of shared interest--local news of a community, a social issue, or a shared cultural interest, for example. They will be active participants rather than passive consumers. They will interact with the journalists, suggest topics to editors, share their knowledge, create content, contribute money, and support the mission of the publication because they feel they are part of it and it speaks for them. "This is ours; we own it".

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

How Talking Points Memo has converted from an ad model to paid subscriptions

Readers now supply more than half the site's revenue.
Josh Marshall started out as a political blogger in 2000, made a business of it in 2003, won a George Polk Award, and has managed to stay independent through all the wild swings of the digital pendulum.

So his reflections on how to transition from an advertising business model to paid subscriptions have a certain authority.

He talked about the evolving business model of his site, Talking Points Memo, in a 47-minute podcast with Digiday Editor Brian Morrissey. Among Marshall's observations that are relevant to other would-be news entrepreneurs:

  • Small, independent news sites cannot rely on scale to drive revenue. They need a strong relationship with their users. Many digital media organizations that have massive audiences will not be able to make the transition to paid subscriptions because they don't have that relationship, he believes.
  • Many of the 26,000 paid subscribers to TPM, which are now supplying just over half the site's revenue, pay because they support the mission of the publication, which "draws on readers' knowledge to break stories." The sales pitch for the $50 Prime product is that you get "warm, fuzzy feelings from supporting independent journalism".