NYT’s Carr Doesn’t Understand Webworld

In yesterday’s NYT, David Carr suggested that Steve Jobs’ iTunes model, in which many people pay a tiny amount for stories, might serve as a way of convincing people to pay for news.

Those of us who are in the newspaper business could not be blamed for hoping that someone like him comescarrstory1 along and ruins our business as well by pulling the same trick: convincing the millions of interested readers who get their news every day free on newspapers sites that it’s time to pay up.

I respectfully disagree with almost everything that Carr said, as well as his reasoning. It seems as if he doesn’t understand the newspaper business. More importantly, he doesn’t understand the new Web medium that is replacing print, radio and TV as the world’s principle principal communications medium.

In Webworld, stand-alone stories won’t be the norm; contextual beat-blogging will be. (On many sites, it already is.) In Webworld, news and information is collaborative. In Webworld, a jurno becomes a community manager of news and information. So, for much of news, it will become practically impossible to isolate an individual blog post to sell it. And the question arises: if news and information is a collaborative work, who owns the information?

A few words about the dilemma of metropolitan newspapers, and then I’ll yammer on a bit more about Webworld: Metros aren’t imploding because advertising can’t support them. What’s crushing them is mountains of debt; news corporations no longer have the 30 percent profit margins they hoped would pay off that debt. Thousands of other small dailies and weeklies are still doing fine with display ads, in print AND on their Web sites. (For now — eventually, they’ll have to make the transition, too.)

And a few more words…about convincing people to pay for news: They haven’t paid for news for decades; why should they start now? Newspapers have been 80 – 85 percent supported by advertising.

Back to Webworld. Here’s where Mr. Carr shows he doesn’t understand the Web medium:

Then again, a friend in the business sent me a link to an item in TechCrunch (yes, it was also free) that described a gadget that actually might work for newspapers.

“Expect a large screen iPod touch device to be released in the fall of ’09, with a 7 or 9 inch screen,” the item suggested.

The device would allow scanning of pages with a flick of the finger. It sounds promising for newspapers and magazines. Now all we need is a business model to go with it.

The basic nature of the Web medium is that it is participatory, interactive, contextual, solution-oriented, and uses a combo of photos, video, audio, graphics, and text (i.e., it is multimedia-oriented). People like this. Hundreds of millions of them enthusiastically use the Web this way. They converse; make and send photos, music, video; share info and news. Most will never want to scan a non-interactive page. They’re integrating the medium into their lives so completely that it’s like electricity — they use it without thinking about it. They expect journalism to adapt to the new medium, too.

Hence, to adapt to this medium, the way journalism works is changing.

As I mentioned above, in Webworld, stand-alone problem-oriented stories are replaced by beat-blogging — continuous, contextual, solution-oriented beat-blogging. (See the info in the tabs above for much more detail, and please add your own ideas — the info in the tabs is just a starting point.) Solution-oriented does NOT mean a jurno provides answers. It means the jurno follows the issue until it’s resolved to the satisfaction of the community, AND the jurno provides links and resources for people to become involved at many different levels. In beat-blogging, the jurno includes its community members as collaborators and supporters. Community includes business owners who sell products and services.

There are plenty of examples to show that many jurnos grok Webworld and are using most of its characteristics. WestSeattleBlog. Baristanet. MaxPreps. Marketwatch. There are many others. All these organizations are Web-based, and all are ad-supported.

As journalism moves into Webworld, it’s likely that many different forms of success will emerge. At the Reynolds Journalism Institute, we’re establishing the RJI Collaboratory — a Web-based news organization incubator — to provide some useful roadmaps for journalists who want to make the transition. We don’t know what all those forms will look like or how they will function. But it’s clear that all must embrace the nature of the medium if they want to thrive.

We’re hosting a Talkfest next week to start this process, and we’ll launch the RJI Collaboratory Network at the same time.

We have a few initial hypotheses about what may happen over the next five years. It’s very clear that the days of large metros employing 300 reporters is gone. There’s probably a place for the mile-wide, inch-deep approach that’s characterized most large metro (and local TV news, for that matter). (Aggregators like Huffington Post are an example.) But not until there’s enough inch-wide, mile-deep news and information to support it. Many of us believe that the first to fill the metro-newspaper vacuum will be hundreds of small news organizations, each operated by two, three or four jurnos. These jurnos will blog their beats. They will collaborate with their communities. they will serve their communities, whether they are geographic- or topic-based.

How many small news organizations will replace one metro is hard to say. Can an urban neighborhood of 100,000 people support one small news organization or four? How many businesses need to be in that community to support a news organization? What are they willing and able to pay? How much does it cost for jurnos to start such organizations? What do they need? What’s the financial progression? If a small news organization can be supported by display ads from small mom-and-pop businesses, how does the ad model change over time? There are a ton of other questions. We hope to have some answers by the end of this year.

Back to Mr. Carr. I can’t fault him for his beliefs. He’s probably seeing the world from the point of view of the New York Times. But the Times doesn’t represent the predominant model any more. It — with the Washington Post, NPR, Wall Street Journal and USA Today — are in their own class. They’re much larger, have a bigger financial cushion, and are able to move much more slowly. They’ve made significant progress toward Webworld, and they have many good people within their organizations pushing them. But they’ll end up immersed in Webworld, too, someday.

One telling example of the world in which Mr. Carr lives: although you can comment on some NYT articles, you can’t comment on Mr. Carr’s.

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It’s Not About The Business Plan

Business plan. Business model. Business plan. Business model. Jeez Louise it seems that’s all you hear about these days. To survive in Webworld, it’s going to take a lot more than developing a new business plan. To adapt to Webworld, the entire approach to news has to change. No business model will help. If you start a Web site, and it looks and functions just like the site that traditional news organizations are doing, it won’t survive.

Lots of folks blame the Internet for screwing up the newspaper business plan. But even without the Internet, newspapers would be in trouble. The dirty secret is that newspapers were losing readers LLOOONNNNGGGGG before the Internet started seeping into our lives. [Weekday newspaper readers had already dropped, from 77.6 percent of the U.S. population in 1970 to 58.6 in 1998]. As the shift to national ads, national reporting, the emphasis on prizes, and corporatizing — being beholden to shareholders — trumped listening and staying focused on serving their communities, journalists, especially in metro areas, had begun losing touch with their communities, which included their local advertisers.

No matter now. Onward.

Webworld demands context. So, Nujurno is an inch wide and a mile deep. (Oldjurno is a mile wide and an inch deep.) It’s not just about the stand-alone story anymore. It’s about never-ending stories in context, embedded in a matrix of really useful information (solution-oriented).

Why am I prattling on about this? Because in Webworld, the news structure — what’s covered and how news is presented — is completely different, which makes how reporters do their jobs very different, too. By focusing on that aspect first, we will figure out how to support and sustain it.

In Michael Hirschorn’s very interesting column about the transition facing the New York Times in the Jan-Feb 2009 Atlantic, there was this:

Like neighboring hospitals coordinating their purchases of expensive MRI equipment, journalistic outlets will discover that the Web allows (okay, forces) them to concentrate on developing expertise in a narrower set of issues and interests, while helping journalists from other places and publications find new audiences.

That’s a very good observation, and it’s been happening outside traditional news organizations for the last several years, as other folks (some abandoning the ranks of traditional journalism to do so) grokked the nature of the Web very quickly and created Web-based social/news/information networks. These include Marketwatch, MaxPreps, and Theknot.com. [Hirschorn may not be on target with some of his financial assessment, according to Rick Edmonds at Poynter, but that’s a separate issue.]

At the November 2008 New Business Models for News Summit at CUNY, many good ideas emerged. But they stopped short of Continue reading

Friday picks

Newsecon: Newspapers better hope Nick Denton’s wrong on advertising in ’09 — Zachary Seward infriday NiemanJournalismLab. The best part is his review of Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker’s analysis of where online advertising’s going.

A Gavin O’Malley article in Online Media Daily about research by tech firm Attributor: Nearly 60% of views of publishers’ content takes place off their destination sites.

Nichification: HealthCentral Expands Potential Partner List, an Online Media Daily news brief, notable because HealthCentral shows the continuing trend of nichification and networking as it buys TheBody.com, an HIV/AIDS resource/news/info site, and partners with others to develop an ad network.

Social networking: Gannett bought Ripple6, which powers the social networking engine of the Moms sites. RIpple6 also provides social networking for General Mills and Proctor & Gamble, and will soon launch MixingBowl.com for Better Homes & Gardens.

Meebo’s partnering with Hearst Corp. to set up Meebo Rooms in the Stars Style 2008 section of Seventeen.com. This is interesting because the chat rooms are surrounded by videos and other content, part of the continuing move to integrate elements (stories, data, resources, social networking) into one page. A little klutzy, because some of the content takes you to a new page, away from the chat. Also, not much activity in there yet.

Everybody’s getting into social networking, even the Financial Times. They’re setting up a spot on the Alphaville blog for market professionals to discuss the day’s news, says Portfolio.com’s blogger Jeff Berkovici. But how to keep out rumor-mongers? The editors of FT.com will approve the people who want to participate.

Noncitizen journalism: Okay, this is a week old, but that’s my modus operandi these days…catching up. In interviews with NowPublic founders Leonard Brody and Michael Tippitt, Seattle Post Intelligencer’s Brian Chin discovered that they really don’t like the term “citizen journalist”. On NowPublic, they practice “participatory journalism”.

Brody, in fact, is famously quoted in Jeff Howe’s book “Crowdsourcing” as saying that “Citizen journalism makes about as much sense as citizen dentistry.”

“I think that the term ‘citizen journalism’ sounds like you’re a nut or something,” Brody explained. “It’s not particularly engaging. It sounds like work.” It’s also a barrier to participation, he said, “because it doesn’t mean anything. This is about people’s experiences and sharing those.”

NowPublic is a combo — aggregation, commenting, and original news — from folks all over the world. But, to continue the mantra…..Citizen dentistry. Citizen plumbing. Citizen surgery. Citizen pilot. Citizen construction worker. Citizen flight attendant. Yep. I agree.

Obamanet’s a model for journalism

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News organizations can learn a thing or two from the Obama campaign’s Web strategy — about community-building and creating a place for members of a community to meet, organize and take action. That’s not the role of journalism, you say? Bear with me.

First a few intriguing facts about Obamanet. In the Washington Post, Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk pointed out that the campaign:

–has an email list of 10 million people who gave money, who were part of or connected to the millions more volunteers who organized rallies and registered voters.

— employed 95 people in its Internet operation. [rejurno: That could drive a healthy mid-size news organization.]

In the NYTimes, Claire Cain Miller attended Web 2.0 Summit 2008 last week where Joe Trippi mention that the YouTube videos created by the Obama campaign were watched for 14.5 million hours. Trippi is a political consultant who ran Howard Dean’s political campaign in 2004.

From Sarah Lai Stirland in Wired.com:

Volunteers used Obama’s website to organize a thousand phone-banking events in the last week of the race — and 150,000 other campaign-related events over the course of the campaign. Supporters created more than 35,000 groups clumped by affinities like geographical proximity and shared pop-cultural interests.

The social networking part of the site — myBarackObama.com — was organized by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

As the presidential race heated up, the internet grew from being the medium of a core group of political junkies to a gateway for millions of ordinary Americans to participate in the political process, donating odd amounts of their spare time to their candidate through online campaign tools. Obama’s campaign carefully designed its web site to maximize group collaboration, while at the same time giving individual volunteers tasks they could follow on their own schedules.

Obama supporters didn’t wait for campaign headquarters to tell them what to do. They created Web sites, videos for YouTube, and even an iPhone and iTouch app. The Obama sites themselves were always morphing, growing, splitting off, adapting as the campaign evolved and grew.

So, what does all this have to do with journalism? As we move away from we-talk-you-listen into Webworld, news organizations must adapt to the characteristics, to the nature of this medium, or die. The Web’s more complex that print, TV or radio, but it’s not that difficult to understand.

Continue reading