Tag Archives: The New York Times

Review: ‘The Story So Far — What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism’

Whenever one writes about the future of newspapers and other news organizations, a voice in the back of your head says: “they’ve tried that already and it didn’t work.” Fifteen years into the digital revolution, that’s the dilemma confronting the news industry as it once again revisits possible solutions. Thankfully, no one is giving up.

Paywalls. Video. Search. Hyperlocal. Mobile. All these things are extensively discussed in “The Story So Far: What We Know About The Business of Digital Journalism,” a new Columbia Journalism School report from Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave and Lucas Graves. The news-centric report doesn’t deal very much with our favorite subject — the transformation of the local marketplace, and the newspapers’ potential role in it. But there is plenty on the plate here.

While there are no ready answers – if we knew the answers, we would have provided them a long time ago — there are strong overviews on each subject. The real focus here is reconnecting to the real “fans” and “regulars” that may engage with a news product 50x more than the “occasionals” and “fly-bys” that make up the bulk of unique visitors. “When people talk about the size of an audience, that’s a sham,” the report quotes Scout Analytics’ Matt Shanahan.

One goal stressed in the report is building a direct relationship with fans to help push contextual advertising. “By producing relevant journalism, deploying data intelligently and relying on social media – not just search engines – to drive traffic, (publishers) can gather a more devoted and involved readership, one that advertisers will also prefer,” notes the authors.

Examiner.com, for instance, does very well when it encourages writes to match their output to social media, search…and advertising. Pet writers did very well last year matching coverage of dog adoption and pet shelters, pushing CPMs from $3-5 to $11 for P&G’s Iam’s Pet Food, a key Examiner sponsor.

In theory, other passion subjects do well too. High school sports especially stands out. The Dallas Morning News’ High School Game Time registers 14 pages a month compared to entertainment (2.5 pages), news (2.78 pages), weather (4.83 pages), and sports (7.71 pages). It also grosses $700K a year of new ad dollars, in partnership with local cable coverage. This year, it is also launching a $1.99 iPhone app., which represents new circulation revenue, along with heavy user paywalls, such as the one recently enacted by The New York Times.

That’s important. Like others, I’ve actually come to conclusion that the news organizations that have the market power to erect such pay walls are the ones that ultimately survive. For The Times, which has boosted per copy costs to $2 a day, circulation dollars have inched up to $683.4 million a year; just behind display advertising, which has fallen from $1.27 billion to $780.4 million. Next year, it doesn’t seem out of the question that circulation will surpass display.

HuffPo’s Eric Hippeau at IAB: ‘I Didn’t Kill Newspapers’

Huffington Post CEO Eric Hippeau defended the role of the site in journalism and said it is helping to herald in “a golden age of journalism” that has more content and audience participation than ever before.

Speaking at IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Carlsbad, CA, Hippeau noted that HuffPo is publishing 500 pieces of content a day, compared to the 100 pieces published by The New York Times. Each piece is curated constantly with the help of the site’s “hyper-efficient editor.” And it publishes two million comments a month.

Much of the content comes from newspapers and other media. But Hippeau argues, “I didn’t kill newspapers,” echoing the five word acceptance speech of a Webbie award by site founder Arianna Huffington last fall. Rather, he says the site brings new users to newspaper sites by links, like Google.

In fact, he contends that newspaper sites are actually doing pretty well. It is the traditional print business that is hurting. Basically, it is a coincidence that “our business is soaring while circulation at newspapers is declining.”

“If I was starting a news business today, the last thing I’d do is hire a team of traditional journalists and buy a printing press,” he says.

Hippeau also contends that the site’s success in boosting usage is based largely on successful verticalization. While the site boomed during the Hilary Clinton versus Barack Obama campaign, the site is now only dependent on politics for 20-25 percent of its traffic. The site, in fact, has just launched its 13th vertical section: colleges. The section enables students to contribute campus-by-campus news for 50+ colleges.

The site also has four local editions (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Denver) and has also recently launched a sports site, which now accounts for 10 percent of its traffic. The timing was fortuitous as the launch occurred around the Tiger Woods scandals three months ago. “It is the gift that keeps on giving,” he says.

Angie’s List Adds First ‘National’ Vertical: Classic & Custom Cars

Following the success of eBay Motors with special classic and custom car restoration verticals, other sites have pitched their own tents to get a piece of the $2 billion annual business, including AutoTrader and The New York Times. Now comes Angie’s List.

Angie’s List, based in Indianapolis and boasting over one million members, actually has some street cred in the auto world by sponsoring the Indy 500. It says the classic/custom car restoration category is worth $2 billion a year. “Custom and classic car owners will go to the ends of the Earth to find the one person who can bring their baby back. We’re going to make that trip easier,” says company namesake Angie Hicks, in a press release.

What is especially unique about the new Angie’s List service is that it isn’t locally oriented. While the site has some national and regional categories, such as bathtub restoration, Classic and custom car restoration is Angie’s first full scale national vertical. It is also the company’s second standalone vertical, following Health, which launched in March and now has 200 categories.

“There are tons of forums, classified ads everywhere you look, and lots of talk in garages around the country about individual specialists and companies that focus on restoring vintage vehicles,” said Hicks. “We’re going to do what we do best and gather that great consumer experience at a site where anyone can easily find just the person they need for the specialty work they need done.”

Cablevision’s Newsday Goes Behind the Firewall

Cablevision has made good on its threat to put the online version of Newsday behind a firewall, accessible only by print subscribers or online only users willing to pay $5 per week. Classifieds will remain free.

Newsday, purchased last May from Tribune Corp. for $650 million, is the nation’s 19th largest newspaper with a daily circulation of 368,194. That’s down from 488,000 a few years ago

The move to put it all behind a firewall is primarily designed to reinforce the value of a print subscription, while bringing in some new dollars – not many — from those who exclusively use the online site. It goes against the conventional wisdom that has prevailed in the Internet era that online readers extend the user base and the newspaper brand, making both more appealing to advertisers.

Newspapers, of course, have an interesting dilemma. Surveys have shown that many users simply don’t want the hassle of managing the account of a daily paper that needs to be recycled or thrown out, especially if they don’t have time to read it on a daily basis. The online fee – also being explored by The New York Times – would compensate the newspaper for its content. The NY Times, however, is apparently looking at a $5 monthly fee, not $20. And it is a primary source for news.

Limiting users is also appealing to publishers as it cuts bandwidth costs, and focuses advertising on local consumers. Providing content to European and Asian audiences is a constant topic of conversation among U.S. newspaper publishers, especially as they add more and more multimedia features with higher bandwidth costs.

At the same time, Cablevision risks losing even more subscribers and further reducing Newsday’s storied brand, which must compete against television news outlets (including Cablevision’s own News12), Internet news sources, and other metro titles (i.e. The New York Times, New York Post, The Daily News). Brand value is especially important in retaining major accounts, such as retailers and auto dealers.

Cablevision’s assessment, obviously, is that it can shore up the Newsday brand, especially using promotions on cable, and its pioneering use of dedicated, on demand channels for autos and real estate – an area that the cable company has been actively pushing.

My assessment is that the MSO is not necessarily de-emphasizing online ads, as some newspapers have. It just hopes to reach them in different ways, with a more focused audience. Executing on that vision (and minimizing the collateral damage) is the daunting task that lies ahead for Tad Smith, the information industry heavyweight from Reed Business Information who has just been appointed Cablevision’s new head of local media group.

Cablevision has already written off much of the $650 million that it spent to buy Newsday. Financially, the acquisition was a very poor decision. The question is whether it can get some of it back and rebuild the Newsday franchise for a new generation.

The Cross-Platform NY Times : 2-10 Year Outlook

The New York Times may be on shaky ground financially, but its R&D unit shows off some fascinating prototypes of what news and advertising will look like in a two part video-and-talk with Zachary Seward from Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab.

Most of the efforts are geared on a seamless transition from a number of “well enabled gadgets” including tablets, iPhones, netbooks and TV. Videos that are checked off on a filter on the Tablet, for instance, can later be accessed on the TV. Check it out.

Yelp Has PR Problem Re: Reviews and Practices

Five-year-old Yelp has been something of a phenomenon, and is a preferred ratings and review directory for millions of people online and mobile in 24 cities. In December, ComScore pegged its traffic at seven million visitors, up from 2.8 million a year before. It also has gathered a library of five million reviews, which are widely syndicated across many sites.

But success sometimes breeds discontent, and there has been a steady stream of complaints about the service, and its alleged habit of deleting or boosting reviews of businesses based on whether they buy advertising with the service. This is something that Yelp absolutely denies.

What makes it difficult to tell is that the reviews aren’t vetted. Two California doctors recently sued Yelp reviewers, claiming they had written false reviews. Yelp’s formula for determining which reviews appear on the site is also less than transparent. In some cases, its spam filter appears to have been overly-vigilant. In other cases, it is unclear why reviews have been deleted.

A comprehensive article in today’s New York Times notes that Yelp feels it is not its job to “referee factual disputes between businesses and reviewers.” It also “won’t investigate reviews accused of being inaccurate or permit businesses to respond to reviews on the site.” Indeed, the company operates on the premise that greater accuracy will emerge from more reviews.

“Some of the confusion may come from the fact that advertisers, who pay $300 to $1,000 a month, are allowed to choose which review shows up at the top of their profile page and block ads from competitors,” notes the article. “For other businesses, the first two listings a reader sees could be an ad for a competitor and a one-star review.”

Yelp has, however, made some changes in the interest of helping businesses, including the addition of Yelp for Business Owners in April 2008. The feature allows business to edit their company profiles, post special offers and privately email reviewers.

The Times also notes that Yelp is stepping up its PR offensive. CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, “is blogging more often about how Yelp works. He has also started a Twitter account to communicate with business owners and reviewers. Yelp is also planning conversations at chambers of commerce and local restaurant associations.”