Friday, April 20, 2012

How I ran my newspaper monopoly (and Warren Buffett ran his)

Back in the 1960s, before baseball had a designated hitter, I had a paper route. This was a job formerly given to 12-year-olds but now has been taken over by adults.

It was a measure of the daily newspaper's market dominance that a kid who wanted a paper route had to buy it from another kid. Having a paper route was the pre-teen equivalent of owning an NFL franchise, an enviably profitable protected monopoly. Mine was a particular block on a particular street. The price to buy it was equal to one week's collections -- in my case about $40.

In the grand old days of newspaper monopolies, people had only a few places they could get the news -- either a daily newspaper, the nightly TV news or radio. If you wanted to know if the local major league team won and hadn't listened to the game on the radio, you had to stay up till 11 o'clock and wait until the announcer gave the score. Or you waited until the next morning's newspaper arrived.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Editors are best marketers of a news organization

Versión en español aquí. 

Many editors cringe when asked to be involved with sales and marketing. They feel it betrays ethical and editorial values to make a buck. 

But editors have product knowledge useful in sales, and they have a passion for their work that can inspire sponsors and advertisers to spend money on the site.

Today editors have to be involved in sales and marketing because of the competition from digital media. The question is how to do it without compromising editorial integrity. 

Digital provides audience data

It used to be that editors in large news organizations had little contact with the audience unless someone called to complain or wrote a letter to the editor. 

They had no way of knowing how many people read a specific article, how much time they spent with it or whether they recommended it to their friends. Now editors can and should know all those things. They have the data and they need to study it. 

The goal of studying traffic data is not to pander to the audience by feeding them more news about celebrities' love lives. The goal is for the editor to make the core product as attractive to the target audience as possible by studying the impact of headlines, design, story placement, time of day, geography and story tags on the website's traffic.

An editor should be the chief marketer of the newspaper, where "marketer" means the person charged with knowing the publication's target audience and developing products designed to capture that audience. 

Competition forces change

The old business model in which editorial could be walled off from advertising and marketing does not work in the competitive environment of digital journalism. Hordes of online competitors are studying user data so they can steal the audience and advertisers of traditional media.

Editorial has to be in sync with marketing and sales to help the enterprise compete. All parties have to have intimate knowledge of what the other is doing and have to cooperate on a daily basis. 

How the editor can help sales

The best salespeople can tell stories about how their product benefits the customer, and the editor is in the best position to tell the story of the news organization. 

The editor is recognized in the community and is in effect a celebrity spokesman for the product. A potential client will avoid a salesperson but will make time to meet the editor. 

So how do you get the editor involved in sales without compromising editorial integrity?

Meet-the-editor events are a great way to pull in new potential advertisers and sponsors. The publication can advertise the event to the public at large or just invite a few key executives. The editor can speak about the news products, some recent scoops, local and national economic trends, the audience of the publication, etc. without ever uttering a word about sales. The editor can refer questions about sales to the sales manager, who should be present.  

I have seen this technique work for business publications and think it can work for other types of publications as well. The editor has to feel comfortable doing it, and a way to ensure that comfort is to not ask the editor to cross the line. 

Digital media competition is breaking down the Chinese wall. That doesn't have to mean the barbarians are invading the newsroom. It can mean that peace now reigns between two formerly antagonistic camps: editorial and marketing/sales. 


Friday, April 13, 2012

Journalist as caped crusader with special powers

Tini Tran, right, chats with students after her talk 
on "Survival Skills for a Foreign Correspondent"

When she was in middle school, Tini Tran was assigned to a journalism class and her career path became clear.

As a refugee from Vietnam living in the U.S., she had been very shy. But as a reporter on her school newspaper, she could ask anyone any question at any time. She felt transformed, like one of those superheroes who acquires special powers by donning a magic cape. She was shy no more.

Tran, a veteran correspondent for the Associated Press in Beijing, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, was a guest of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University April 13.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Crap detector Part III: verify Tweets, FB

Lately I have been teaching my students at Tsinghua University how to verify information they get in press releases, hear from news sources and see on the web. This is my third entry on the subject.

Crap detector Part I: Credibility as business model
Crap Detector Part II: Mr. Daisey's Apple Factory

The website has posted the most thorough list of techniques I have seen of how journalists can verify information they find on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Language barrier helps publisher paywalls

Europe is a patchwork of dozens of different languages, and news media now see this as an opportunity. They are banding together to charge for internet access to local-language products.

Dutch and Flemish publishers are the latest in Europe to consider erecting a shared paywall around  content in their languages, Paid Content reports.

The concept is already under way in Slovakia and Slovenia, where Piano Media has gotten media outlets to create a shared-payment system.