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July 2007 Archives

July 1, 2007

CNN.com's redesign lets you Netflix your news

With its redesign, CNN.com took first steps toward Netflix-ing your news.

Notice the "We Recommend" section at the bottom right-hand corner of article pages. The articles listed there are supposed to be, "Stories you may be interested in based on past browsing." The more articles you view, the better refined that list should become.

I don't have any knowledge of how the list is populated. What I recommended a few months back was to let users rate whether they were interested in the story. If a user rates a story with the "U.S. Postal Service" as a taxonomy keyword, for example, then attribute the rating to the keyword. Wash, repeat and recommend stories that match the user's average highest-rated keywords.

CNN.com realized that if someone clicks on an article, it inherently means they've expressed interest. There's no need for the rate-this-article button.

Everyone should be doing this. But so far it’s just PegasusNews.com and now CNN.com leading the way.

July 2, 2007

Blatantly unfair, unbalanced?

The 8 p.m. cable news shows just started. On MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the first story on (and still on as I type) is President Bush commuting the sentence of Scooter Libby. On CNN, conservative commentator Glenn Beck is sitting in for Paula Zahn, and although he didn't lead with the story, it was soon covered. Lastly, on the O'Reilly Factor, with Michelle Malkin sitting in for Bill, the story wasn't even mentioned during the first block.

And the second block just began still without any mention of the story. That means I've been watching Fox News now for more than a half hour without so much as a teaser about the commuted sentence. That's because the Fox Report with Shepard Smith ended the last 15 to 20 minutes of his show without deviating from his carefully crafted script to cover the breaking news.

So, who was right?

The story broke in time to be covered on broadcast evening news. Just two hours later, has it already expired?

UPDATE: Forty minutes into the O'Reilly Factor, two guest analysts are on. They're debate? Oh no, there's no debate. Both said the exact phrase, "it was the right thing to do." One minute later, they move onto another topic. I'm tempted to remove the question mark at the end of my headline.

July 3, 2007

The fake cross-ownership quandry

In recent weeks, Sam Zell and the Tribune Co. have bounded about Capitol Hill trying to convince lawmakers to let them retain ownership of television stations and newspapers in several markets where they own both.

You might remember that former FCC chairman Michael Powell bumbled this issue a long while back. It was supposed to be a sure thing but quickly deteriorated into mass hysteria in which media companies were supposedly trying to rule the world.

According to conspiracy theorists, media can't be trusted to own the major newspaper and television station in the same market. To me, their logic implies we're allowed to publish in multiple mediums just so long as we're not very good at it.

When barriers to cross-ownership fall, it will trigger a Golden Age in media, during which convergence better serves the people. A reader should be able to get news from USA Today in any medium they want. The same goes for the local market. I should be able to watch news from my newspaper, or read it, or listen to it on the radio. There’s no reason to constrict news organizations by medium.

But I don’t know if that was part of Zell’s argument to legislators. Being a business man, I’m guessing he told them that the restrictions were killing his business. It’s hard enough to compete in this world of exploding media choices, nevermind when the government doesn’t let you participate in all the choices.

July 4, 2007

St. Pete Times prints ad blaming gay people for hurricane

There are two ways to look at what's happened.

1) The St. Petersburg Times accepted an anti-gay ad and printed it. No big deal. Freedom of speech, after all.

2) The St. Petersburg Times accepted a hateful ad that promotes violence against gays and printed it. Very big deal.

First, I haven't seen the ad and have only read other people's accounts of what it said. Still, as your resident gay journalist blogger, I have to issue a complaint.

The ad reportedly implied God sent Hurricane Katrina to wipe out gay-friendly New Orleans. And because St. Pete hosts one of Florida's largest gay pride festivals, guess which city the pastor who printed this ad predicts is the next to feel God's wrath?

Here's a quote from the ad: "There will come a day when they will answer to God for this … PAYDAY, SOMEDAY!"

Let's pray no one read this ad as a call to bring on a payday against gay people. After all, God sent a lethal hurricane. Surely he wants you, redneck, to beat one of us and tie him to a fence.

Perhaps The St. Pete Times didn't notice this ad promotes violence. When you're on the recieving end, the ad reads a little differently. I wouldn't oppose an ad that simply encouraged people to be saved or to join one of those scams that claim they can make you straight. I am opposed to ads that scream for a PAYDAY.

The St. Pete Times should issue an apology.

July 6, 2007

The best critique I've read of two recent redesigns

Thanks to Journerdism, I've stumbled upon what is the single best critique of redesigns at CNN.com and USAToday.com.

Andy Rutledge explains how to accomplish "quiet structure" in your design. Hopefully, everyone understands how important this quality is to the user experience.

Was WSJ sold? Reporter versus commenter

When Web sites started allowing comments directly on articles, they hoped it would foster debate or that someone would add to the reporting. That happened today with a big story.

First, I read on Jeff Jarvis' Buzz Machine blog about a story in which the reporter claims Dow Jones has been sold to Rupert Murdoch. Second, I read the story.

Third, I read a comment on the story from Linda Dunbar, vice president of corporate communications for Dow Jones. She says the story is incorrect and that the company released a press release contradicting it.

By the time I read it, the story had already been revised to include this paragraph:

On Friday afternoon London time, Dow Jones, reacting to the first posting of this story, issued a statement saying that it was "incorrect". When The Business contacted Dow's corporate affairs, however, it refused to elaborate on the record.
Even if the story proves to be true, the comment served its purpose. It allowed an avenue for dissent, which makes some newsroom folks uncomfortable. They worry that comments placed directly on stories undermine the newspaper's credibility.

If commenters actively try to debunk reporting it might disenfranchise readers. Or, they worry about confusion created by presenting readers' opinions on the same page as what is supposed to be objective reporting.

I disagree. Most of us would. Readers are smarter than they're given credit. Not only can they tell the difference between what is from the newspaper and what isn't, but also they appreciate the attempt at transparency.

July 7, 2007

To embed or not to embed? That's not the real question

If you're looking to increase video plays, Melissa Worden points out some valuable statistics provided by the head of BBC Interactive.

Pete Clifton said that when video was embedded into the article page, up to 40 percent of people reading the story also played the video. When users had to click a link to watch the video, only about 2 percent of people actually played it.

That's a huge difference. At first glance, we should all run out and jam video into the top of article pages, where the BBC runs it. But Clifton has a qualifying statement:

What irritates the hell out of people is if they click a story which says 'Britain buys 100 new tanks for the war in Afghanistan' they then click on the video and it's just a bloke standing in Whitehall saying 'they’re going to buy 100 new tanks for the war in Afghanistan'. The viewer could say 'you've wasted my time.'

We have done a lot of that. We have put up hundreds of pieces of video on the news site and too often they have replicated what the story has already said.

We should think more about what that page does in the round and come up with a piece of video that absolutely complements the text.

So the next question becomes, who is going to record all of this complementary video? Easier said than done. With a TV news station, videographers could be required to bring back extra footage that won't air as part of their story package.

Without a TV station, turn to your print photographers. Arm them with cameras. Train them. And then require the photo editor to return video with most stories. (Notice I said the photo editor, not the photographers.)

It's true, you're not going to get the best possible footage. When something big is happening, the print photogs are going to have their regular camera in hand. But for a moment, they'll put it down and tape something that complements the story.

Or, hire a bunch of Web-only videographers . . . Good luck getting that approved.

Related story: What the BBC learned from video experiments, found via Martin Stabe

Pogue's iPhone music video is actually good

During my travels on the Web, I passed by a few chances to watch this. I'm glad I finally did.

Aside from it being funny, it's also a way of covering this story that wouldn't have been done on TV and couldn't have run in print or on radio. Truly Web only, the spoof is picking up a lot of plays on YouTube. More than 100,000 views so far.

On a side note, the video directly from the Times is much clearer, but you can't embed it. So, YouTube was the only option. The Times posts these to YouTube themselves, so I'm guessing they don't mind.

July 8, 2007

CNN on YouTube debate: 'no comment'

The headline at David Cohn's blog asks, "Why Vote for a Video If the Vote Takers Aren't Listening?" He's talking about the supposed YouTube debate set to air on CNN.

It seems you can upload a question for the debate, but there's no way for anyone else to comment in response. CNN can basically pick any question it wants from the stack of videos regardless of whether people on YouTube think it's the best question to ask.

July 9, 2007

'Slingbox without the box' being tested


Video: LiveStation Demo

Check out the "Slingbox without the box" presented in this demo, which I first saw on the.next.net blog.

The presenter says they're trying to free television from the TV box. Expect to see the product available to the public in October.

July 10, 2007

MySpace News worth using

After about an hour using the beta version of MySpace News, I'm pretty sure it's going to be worth your time.

Articles from blogs and other media outlets are funneled into categories on MySpace News. Then users read and rank the articles. Yes, we've all heard of that before. The best thing is the design lets users browse from article to article and read them without really leaving the site. Very easy to use.

Still, there are problems. For example, the "journalism" topic of the site is littered with politics news that I quickly rated as "useless."

If for no other reason, check it out to learn how you can rate your content up the list and drive traffic to your own site.

July 12, 2007

Making the case that it's the real estate market's fault

In the interest of full disclosure, here's an article from today's Herald-Tribune about the plight facing Southwest Florida media. The article suggests the fizzling real estate market deserves a large part of the blame for a downturn in newspaper revenue.

As always, comments are closed on posts of this nature about my workplace.

UPDATES:

- Poynter's Romenesko mentions the buyout plan included in the article and links to a memo from our publisher, Diane McFarlin.

- Editor and Publisher wrote a critical review of the Herald-Tribune announcement.

July 14, 2007

Design implications of reading blogs

The new design of AOL News sparked a memory of some behavior I observed during recent user testing. When users were asked to identify the latest story on our section fronts, they often picked the one listed at the top of the page.

This presented an interesting problem for our upcoming redesign at HeraldTribune.com. Often our section fronts are sorted by the editors. The story at the top of the page is supposed to be the most important, not the latest.

I’m wondering whether blogs are starting to shape the expectations of online readers. A blog always puts the latest post at the top of the page.

AOL News is clearly taking advantage of this emerging point of view. Most of the stories listed in the main column on the home page look like a blog. But they're not exclusively ordered by timeline. Looks like some older stories move up the list, which I'm sure will confuse its users if asked to identify the latest story.

Does it matter whether users perceive the story at the top as the latest or the most important? Most studies show that readers see breaking news as the No. 1 value of news Web sites. If a returning reader sees the story at the top of the page is unchanged, then perhaps they think your entire site is less frequently updated than you’d hope. That means fewer repeat visitors.

My suggestion for AOL News: Let users sort the blog. The default presentation can show "top stories right now." (That's the label AOL uses.) But also let stories be sorted chronologically, or by what's most popular using the thumbs up ratings attached to the stories. USAToday.com makes a good try at this functionality on its home page.

July 20, 2007

Either bad or really bad for 2nd quarter results

Get ready for second-quarter earnings reports. This boring-sounding topic could actually become one of the most pivotal influences on your daily life, so keep those eyelids open. Bad reports mean more lay-offs are to come. Really bad reports mean a lot more lay-offs are to come. Here’s our regular listing culled from news releases:

Gannett

For the second quarter of 2007, total pro forma operating revenues were down 4.0 percent . . . newspaper advertising revenues for the quarter were 5.3 percent lower . . . local advertising declined 4.0 percent . . . classified revenues for the quarter declined 7.5 percent. Real estate revenues were 9.9 percent lower, employment was down 7.1 percent and automotive declined 13.6 percent.

Lee Enterprises

Total revenue for the quarter from continuing operations decreased 3.2 percent from a year ago to $281.4 million. Total advertising revenue decreased 3.1 percent, with online advertising up 61.2 percent. Combined print and online retail advertising decreased 2.8 percent. Combined print and online classified advertising revenue decreased 2.1 percent, with employment up 7.6 percent, automotive down 9.1 percent and real estate down 8.3 percent. Combined print and online national advertising revenue decreased 13.6 percent. Circulation revenue declined 3.3 percent.

McClatchy

On a pro forma basis, including the 20 former Knight Ridder newspapers in the first half 2006, total revenues in 2007 would have been down 6.7%, with advertising revenues down 7.6%, and circulation revenues down 4.1%. Cash operating expenses were down 9.3% in the first half and operating cash flow was up 2.4% in the first six months of the year.

Media General

Publishing Division profit in the quarter declined by 28.7 percent. Total Publishing revenues decreased 9.6 percent, and newspaper advertising revenues were down 11 percent from 2006. Classified advertising revenues decreased $9.6 million, or 16.7 percent. The Richmond Times-Dispatch was even with last year, while The Tampa Tribune and Winston-Salem Journal reported decreases of 36.7 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively.

New York Times Co.

Total revenues decreased 3.7 percent to $788.9 million from $819.6 million. Advertising revenues decreased 5.7 percent; circulation revenues decreased 0.5 percent; and other revenues rose 2.2 percent . . . Operating profit decreased 49.8 percent to $43.3 million from $86.2 million.

Scripps

At Scripps newspapers, total revenue during the second quarter was $166 million vs. $182 million for the same period a year ago. Newspaper online revenue increased 25 percent year over year to $10.7 million.Newspaper segment profit for the period was $33.2 million vs. $55.1 million last year.

Tribune Co.

Publishing’s second quarter operating revenues were $920 million, down 9 percent, or $95 million . . . Publishing operating cash flow was $147 million, a 41 percent decline from $250 million in 2006. Publishing operating profit decreased 51 percent to $102 million, from $208 million in 2006 . . . Advertising revenues decreased 11 percent, or $91 million, for the quarter.

Washington Post

Print advertising revenue at The Post in the second quarter declined 13% to $128.4 million, from $148.3 million in the second quarter of 2006, and decreased 15% to $253.6 million for the first six months of 2007, from $298.1 million in the same period of 2006.

July 21, 2007

Credit score, meet traffic score for Web sites

Nielsen continues to miss the point with its decision to replace page views with “time spent” as a key metric in deciding which sites are most successful. No single metric or pair of metrics can provide a complete picture of how well a site performs. Instead, I suggest our industry learn a lesson from the big credit card and mortgage companies. Create something akin to a credit score. Call it a traffic score.

The traffic score should combine many metrics into a single weighted number. Include page views, unique users, repeat users, time spent, and page views per visit to start. For example, if all five of those were weighted equally then each would contribute to 20 percent of any Web site’s traffic score.

Since Nielsen believes unique users and time spent are the most important indicators of success, then maybe it would weight those at a higher percentage of the score than other factors. The traffic score provides a more comprehensive story.

The idea of a traffic score isn’t a hard one to grasp, so I won’t belabor the point. Except I do want to point out the effect of focusing on page views was too often to encourage bad site design and disregard new technology such as AJAX. The effect of focusing on time spent could mean making a page more confusing actually leads Nielsen to believe it’s more successful. Focusing strictly on unique users lets people focus on driving up traffic from search engines and ignore creating a loyal user base. I could go and on, but that's enough to make the point that any single metric provides a partial picture.

Nielsen, ComScore and others should create a traffic score. Perhaps Omniture and Web Trends will lead the way by first creating a traffic score within their systems.

RELATED: Tabbed browsing not counted by Nielsen as time spent

Attack of the clones; Tribune Co. redesigns are bad

Based on the redesigns of Tribune Co. Web sites, it’s a good thing they’re going private because I’d have to rate the company as a big sell, sell, sell.

I don’t know any way to say it more clearly: These designs are bad.

What shocks me is not only that they’re so bad, but also that they’re being rolled out so quickly to all of the Tribune Co. properties: OrlandoSentinel.com and Courant.com in June, then BaltimoreSun.com, MCall.com and ChicagoTribune.com in July. These are major sites that should be redesigned cautiously. More time for reflection between launches would have provided lessons learned that save a lot of user angst.

So, what makes these designs so bad? First, let me say it’s not the content. It’s strictly some oddball decisions that disregard studies and trends in the industry.


Glaring problem No. 1: The left rail

Poynter’s eyetracking studies (and not even the most recent batch, the old ones) showed that horizontal navigation fared better than left-rail navigation. In my view, Poynter’s was the last word on this discussion. Bad left-rail navigation includes dozens of links to nearly everything on the site. It’s like driving down the highway and instead of seeing only the signs for upcoming exits, you see all the signs for the next 300 miles of options. Simplify, and it’s easier for me to quickly arrive where I want.

Not-so-glaring problem No. 2: The tabbed main box

Judging from conversations I’ve had with sites that started using tabbed boxes years ago when first trendy, they work only under specific conditions.

Tabbed boxes might be effective if they’re used to shorten the page. In the case of Tribune, the home pages are still long. Even stranger: The content in the tabs is often repeated down page.

Tabbed boxes might be effective if the sub-tabs are for content that wouldn’t normally be featured high on the page. In other words, don’t put your most important sections within a sub-tab. They’ll decline in traffic. People just don’t use those nifty tabs nearly as much as we’d dreamed.

Perplexing decision No. 3: One size fits all?

Not too long ago the company pioneering the land of one-size-fits-all Web design went belly-up. That company’s name was Knight-Ridder. I don’t know the specifics of what made it so difficult to innovate amid a rigid system, but I don’t need to. They went belly-up. Remember? And the company that took over its sites, the one successful enough to do that, McClatchy, doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all sites.

To some extent, the failure of Backfence was its one-size-fits-all approach to local coverage. To be micro local, your design can’t ignore the coverage strengths of individual papers. After all, the Orlando Sentinel doesn’t have the same strengths as the Chicago Tribune. So why would they have the same design?

Well, that’s the wrong question. We know why: Money.

RELATED

July 22, 2007

Company plucks one from my list of best sites to buy

A few months ago, I posted a list of the best prospects for newspapers looking to make acquisitions of Web stuff.

MediaBistro made the list but was purchased this week by JupiterMedia. Like I said, every site on my list is a steal. Act fast.

Anderson Cooper defends YouTube debate

In defense of the CNN-YouTube debate, Anderson Cooper said today that it wasn’t possible to let people vote on which questions should be asked tomorrow because the candidates might cheat.

In other words, if everyone was allowed to pick the questions, then John Edwards and his campaign might repeatedly click on a softball question about “two Americas.”

Anderson apparently doesn’t think political candidates have anything more important to do with their time. Here’s exactly what he said in response to a question from Howard Kurtz on Reliable Sources:

We would all very much wish that there was a process by which just everybody out there could select a question, but it’s just not possible at this point . . . You would see campaigns going out there and having all their people click on the questions that they’d wanted to be asked. You would see campaigns attempting to manipulate the process and there is no way to control for that if you leave it open to just a vote count on the Internet.

Even if Hillary forced her entire campaign staff to stay up nights clicking on a question about Obama’s lack of experience, I really doubt she could outnumber the rest of the country’s voters. Still, let’s assume Anderson’s right and Hillary’s army is too much for us to match. If Hillary wants to rally the country around a YouTube question, then why shouldn’t she be allowed to? People who work for a campaign are real people.

What's more likely is Howard Stern could pull a "Sanjaya" and organize his listeners around a question about the rights of strippers, or a more serious question about FCC censorship. That kind of publicity would probably be good for the show's ratings.

The real issue here is CNN (and maybe Anderson Cooper, too) aren’t prepared for truly crowd-sourced debates. It puts them in an awkward position. After all, Howie’s first question was: “Anderson, if the stars of tomorrow’s debate are these ordinary people, those who have submitted these video questions, how do you see your role?”

In other words, couldn’t a monkey do your job tomorrow, Anderson? Well, maybe a really handsome monkey.

July 23, 2007

Community site sold, concedes it wasn't making profit

One of my favorite community publishing Web sites, PegasusNews.com, has been sold to ensure it stays alive. The buyer is Fisher Communications, a Seattle-based communications company.

In a post about the sale, founder Mike Orren said the site had run out of money months ago and staffers were working for free.

You (hopefully) know that we are a tenacious, dedicated lot. What you probably don't know is that while still working on our longer-term plans, we ran out of cash back in February. This group continued to work tirelessly to build this service from then until June without a nickel of pay. I'm a little verklempt even as I type this -- This amazing group stuck with this for nearly four months without paychecks (and a couple months prior knowing that the dry spell was impending).

These are not rich kids, or people with trust funds or cash cows at home. These are real people who struggle to make rent and keep gas in the car. And they stuck in -- even when success was not assured, and even while we took our time to make sure we were making the right partnership.

There have been many, many days in the past year that I personally have been tempted to chuck it in -- not because I didn't believe in what we were doing and not because I didn't think the business was on the right track -- but because it was so hard trying to build a battleship out of plywood. And then I'd come into the office and listen to the team trade stories of evading landlords and where to buy Ramen noodles, and I knew, for the moment, that we would make it.

I'm glad the site was sold rather than taken down. Pegasus' "Daily You" product, a dynamic personalized approach to delivering the news, is truly innovative and should become a model to larger sites. CNN.com has started something similar.

For those of us not familiar with the Fisher company, find comfort in knowing that Mike and team will stay on staff, ensuring Pegasus continues its individually tailored approach to covering the news.

July 24, 2007

YouTube debate worth it, despite Biden cheating

Since I was such a critic of CNN’s plan to select the video questions for its YouTube debate without any input from users, I’m obliged to admit the producers did an admirable job despite cutting the people out of the process.

Like many of you, I recorded the debate on my DVR and just got around to watching. It’s officially one of the most entertaining debates in a long time. That’s a big statement considering we’re talking about a pretty inconsequential Democratic primary debate.

CNN used the YouTube videos as a gimmick, and the gimmick really made for good TV. Being able to see people asking questions in a relaxed atmosphere, often from their homes, made a big difference in the authenticity of the moment.

Still, I wish CNN would have allowed a couple questions to be not only submitted but also chosen by users. That way, an abnormal topic could make the agenda.

Anderson Cooper claimed that letting the people pick would entice candidates to cheat. He predicted campaigns would vote for the questions they want. Well, it appears Sen. Joseph Biden tried anyway, convincing several people to repeatedly submit a form letter question on Iraq. My reaction: so what? If Biden can persuade thousands of people to vote for a question, then that’s a good indicator it’s not only worth asking, but also effective publicity for the debate.

Since we’re talking about Anderson, I should give him credit. I insinuated CNN, and perhaps the Coop himself, might be afraid that crowd-sourcing debates makes them obsolete. Although that might be their fear, I think Anderson proved his worth as the moderator, keeping the pace quick and the answers as on-point as can be expected of career politicians.

Turns out a paid monkey couldn’t have done the job justice, not even a handsome paid monkey.

July 25, 2007

Prepare for salary cuts across the board

In what is sure to become a trend across the industry, The Daily Herald out of Chicago cut all employee salaries by 5 percent to combat falling revenues.

Plan now. Many of you will make less money in the near future. Instead of cutting bodies, some newsroom managers will consider slashing salaries as a better option.

In a memo to the staff (and leaked on Romenesko), the paper’s ever-optimistic CEO calls the salary reduction “short-term” and plans for salaries to one day return to their previous levels. Fat chance. In the same memo, the editor mentions exactly why things aren’t ever going to be the way they were during the good ol’ days:

In past cyclical downturns, we have weathered the storm with temporary measures that reduced expenses, awaiting a return of business in the wake of economic recovery. This situation is different and requires short-term expense reduction initiatives as well as long-term structural adjustments in the way we do business, which will position the company for the future. Again, it is important to realize that this newspaper revenue downturn is different from those in the past. Our industry is in the throes of a structural shift of revenue in which growth on the Internet side is not rapid enough to compensate for losses in print advertising.

Cutting people and salaries is not a long-term solution. After all, cutting reporters and editors negatively affects the content of the Web sites that are supposed to serve as savior to their ailing print counterparts. The solution – regardless of how much it hurts print folks to hear – is to cut the number of pages and sections printed in the newspaper. Much more should become online-only.

July 26, 2007

As papers close down, opportunities pass by

Time to check in on a prediction Wired magazine made (and I seconded) at the start of the year. Wired said a newspaper will combat revenue declines by ending print publication and going online-only. An opportunity for that change is passing by.

Scripps recently announced that afternoon newspapers The Cincinnati Post and The Kentucky Post will close before the year’s end. As their joint-operating agreements with Gannett come to an end, management had to decide whether to go online-only. They decided against it, blaming the prohibitive cost of hiring a sales force.

Well, that’s hooey.

Go online only, anyway. Cut traditional positions from the newsroom. Hire sales people. Get scrappy. The brand names are too strong to waste. Maybe there’s some Richie Rich out there who understands the power of a good brand and is willing to buy the name and give it a try.

One of the things Craigslist set out to prove is a lot can get done with a little staffing.

And wouldn’t the staff of the Posts savor the sweet revenge of using all those subversive online techniques to hit their former partners where it hurts financially? Give away classified ads. Become more user-submitted. Like I said, get scrappy.

No, it won’t be the Posts of old. It’s an opportunity for something new to be constructed on what’s left of something great.

Any takers, billionaires?

RELATED: Poll on Kentucky Post Web site asks whether newspapers have a future

UPDATE: Howard Owens points out that supermarket tabloid Weekly World News is closing up shop to go online only. Does that really count?

July 28, 2007

Ad rates to climb sharply, so says me

Advertisers, prepare for rates to go up. And I’m not talking about in print.

If newspapers respond to market demands, the amount of money it costs for a simple banner ad is about to jump dramatically. Just guessing on the exact figure, but I’d say online CPMs have a strong likelihood of at least doubling within the next two years.

On what do I base this daunting prediction?

A profile of washingtonpost.com’s finances from Fortune magazine enlightens us on the quandary all newspapers are facing, without a solution. The dominant print product is losing revenue in greater amounts than the Web version can grow to replace them.

The first step toward band-aiding this problem is furiously cutting expenses on the newspaper side. It’s happening now in the form of lay-offs, buyouts and shrinking news holes. “Opportunities” in this area will quickly turn bleak.

When executives are faced with choices that even the most cutthroat among us can’t stomach, they’ll need to find ways to raise revenues in a hurry.

Numerous smart executives will turn first to the newspaper for the money. After all, raising print rates offers the biggest and immediate return. Really smart executives will see through this temptation. After all, basic economics says that as demand falls, cost should follow suit. Not the other way around.

Raising print rates will only quicken the pace of defections, sending advertisers to any of the cheaper competitors for their marketing dollars.

Online advertising will benefit from this mistake.

Be on the lookout for sharp increases in the amount of your site's inventory that is sold out. When that happens, and without being able to generate gross amounts of new page views, the only option is raising rates.

As the newspaper’s sliding revenues only slide faster, executives will notice what’s happening online and see it as a chance to make some quick cash. Only this time, they’ll be right.

What Seuss would say to sales people

"Recovering Journalist" Mark Potts keeps turning down Washington Post sales people who try selling him a print subscription. An ode to his blog post follows . . .

I do not want the friggin' Post.
I do not want your long sales boast.
I do not want a paper stack.
I do not want you, don't come back.
I do not want it on the house.
I do not want, nor does my spouse.
I do not want to kill the tree.
I do not want it, even free.

July 30, 2007

Alternatives to selling page views

With Nielsen sounding the death knell for page views as a valid measurement, the next question is what happens to advertising.

Nielsen recently ditched page views in favor of counting only unique users and time spent. So let’s assume those metrics become the basis for future advertising models.

Solutions start to look more like print. In the newspaper, multiple ads are delivered to a single subscriber. Advertisers pay for access to X number of people. In truth, they pay even if Joe Schmoe never reads the page with their ad. The Web can be more accurate.

Like in the newspaper, multiple ads can be served to a single person. But unlike the newspaper, the advertiser would be charged only when a user actually reads a page with their ad on it.

The CPM rate changes from one based on cost per thousand page views to cost per thousand unique users. For example, if you charge a $20 CPM and 1,000 people see the banner, then the site just made $20. Serve ads with each new page view and then track how many uniques see that ad.

Or take the other road and sell based on time spent. If two users are on the site from 1 p.m. until 1:10 p.m., then each has spent 10 minutes, for a total of 20 minutes in ad inventory. What’s being sold essentially becomes a surround session, which is proven more effective as a branding campaign than regular means for ad serving.

I know of no ad-serving system prepared to work within either of these models. Someone better get moving. Nielsen won’t be the last group to stop counting page views. Next come advertisers.

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Page views and CPMs are suppressing online advertising growth and innovation

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An interview with Tacoda's Larry Allen

About July 2007

This page contains all entries posted to "Lucas Grindley's blog | Exploring the new way for journalism" in July 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2007 is the previous archive.

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Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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