Developing a Digital News Ritual

Posted on June 2, 2009 by Comments Off

David Patton, Editor In Chief

It’s not news to say that the ritual of reading the morning paper (or even the existence of print news) is going the way of the dodo. Certainly there are a wealth of choices that offer that same information and news in the form of an online torrent.

NewspaperThis is the personal impact of the communications cataclysm we’re experiencing. It’s as important as ever to be well read on both the macro and micro level, but the tools and habits have changed. There are thousands of sites that need to be looked at and just as many tools that can be used to funnel the information into our brains. Choosing the right one is daunting. Finding the time to explore the options is also daunting.

I’m increasingly curious about how people manage that flow of information. And, more importantly, how they are staying in the know without that ritual when being constantly distracted by email, phone calls and the increasingly hectic schedules to which many professionals are becoming accustomed?

It seems like too many people are throwing up their hands, giving up on the news ritual altogether and letting the torrent of information wash over them without really getting them wet. It’s no help that the mainstream media is spending most of its time creating multiple versions of the same news without spending time (or money) telling deeper stories or investigating complex issues.

The plop of the newspaper (or trade pub) on the driveway or desk made things easy for us to both know what the big news was or skim through to discover an interesting article buried on page 25. But it looks like those print rituals won’t last much longer.

So it’s time to develop a digital news ritual. Experiment with new tools like Google Reader, Twitter, Xmarks or aggregators like Alltop. You don’t have to start from scratch. There are likely early adopters in your office who have already done some of the experimentation. And if you are one of those who has already found a digital reading ritual please share your tips.

If Chris Anderson Can’t Reinvent the Publishing World, Who Can?

Posted on May 19, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

Even as Chris Anderson makes a boatload of money off his ideas, subsequent books and high-dollar speaking engagements, Wired (his editorial charge), is one of the biggest losers in the ad game:

Wired Struggles to Find Niche in Magazine World — NYTimes.com

I think Chris’s ideas are spot on. He’s a brilliant guy with some serious thought leadership. Wired is a great publication, both the online and the print versions, but can he translate great content and thought leadership into a real business for Wired? If Chris can’t, then who can?

This really only leads me to two rationale explanations:

  1. Chris is too caught up in his own celebrity.
  2. Chris is hamstrung by parent company Conde Nast to implement any of that great thinking.

The third possibility is that we have yet to see Chris’ master plan in action. I’m hoping for number three. Wired and the whole publishing world (online and print) need some innovation.

In the case of CNN vs. Ashton Kutcher, CNN sentences itself

Posted on April 17, 2009 by Comments Off

Paul Armstrong, Senior Digital Consultant for EMEA

In recent days we’ve seen two major brands, Domino’s and now CNN — for VERY different reasons — fall foul of social media. The CNN vs. Ashton Kutcher episode highlights the fact that when you lose on social media you lose on multiple levels (credibility, public perception and reputation). What have the last 72 hours taught CNN?

Never underestimate the power of the underdog effect. People tend to jump in when they feel someone is at a disadvantage, if they feel something is unjust, or if they feel they can “stick it to the man.” The Susan Boyle video from Britain’s Got Talent is another example where people go ape over an underdog who prevails. For CNN:

  • They should not have fired back immediately, but rather acknowledged Kutchers’ position and point of view. They (mainly Larry King) attacked it in a very repulsive way to the community, which inflamed the situation and spurred people on to help someone they have a) never met, b) are never likely to meet and c) is possibly even someone they don’t even like.
  • Key learning: Never be cocky or forget that people are behind “the machine” — these folks (and there are many types) have feelings and will mobilize if the right triggers are pulled. Make sure you are pulling the right ones.

Listen, listen more, think and then react (if necessary) — in that order! Larry King’s response “CNN will bury you,” is tragic and T-shirt-worthy at the same time. Where was the restraint? Where was the strategic counsel? CNN reacted like a pit bull and now they have damaged their brand online and offline.

Know your place in the space, and why you are there. Inherently this will determine how you should communicate. In my opinion, CNN should be passively using Twitter — feed the community rather than engage (or if you MUST do both — be sure you are engaging correctly).

By treating Twitter as a popularity contest (both sad and wrong) and referring to itself as an omnipotent force CNN highlighted the medieval thinking and cloudy lens some companies (and individuals) view social media through. So how does CNN come back from this? Well this is a start but hardly a job well done. Luckily it’s the weekend a typically quiet time for the internet, which will only serve to help them, but then again (per Kutcher) CNN just offered him a spot on Larry King live, to talk about the whole debacle. One can only hope CNN uses it as an opportunity to apologize and own the error. Tweet on…

Why Are Mobile Users Ignoring Traditional Media Apps?

Posted on April 10, 2009 by Comments Off

Nathan Misner, Vice President of Digital Consulting

A lot has been made about the traditional media not learning from the mistakes the entertainment industry made in regards to quickly and enthusiastically embracing new distribution methods. That may or may not be true, but it might not matter. In the current issue of MediaWeek we find an interesting nugget on the intersection of changing influence, mobile marketing and digital storytelling:

Apple App Store: Traditional Media is a Bust
No apps from publishers like the New York Times or broadcasters like CBS appear in the top 25 downloaded apps in the Apple App Store, where external developers launch programs or tools for iPhone users, says a report by comScore. Games dominate in Apple apps.

Many of the traditional media outlets have made the jump to mobile by creating apps that live on and distribute content to handsets. Good for them, that’s the right thing to do. But the question is: Are consumers biting?

In the latest comScore report charting iPhone applications, not one traditional publisher, CBS, New York Times, etc. makes the top 25. Games and Social Media apps make up the majority of the comScore top 25.

Demographics of iPhone users surely play into these app choices, but I’m convinced that this is a reflection of the general larger influence shift.

What are your thoughts?

AP and Google Need to Find Peaceful Resolution

Posted on April 10, 2009 by Comments Off

Ian Benson, Digital Experience Producer

Recently in a Huffington Post article titled “To Newspaper Moguls: You Blew It” on the topic of AP vs. Google, author Jeff Jarvis references the concept of a “link economy” while telling the Newspaper Association of America how they’ve got it all wrong.

In the link economy — instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate — Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But you won’t, because you’ve refused to understand this new business reality.

I love Jarvis’ reference to the “link economy” but not sure that content is “outmoded.” It would be interesting to see the model the AP could create in response if Google were to stop linking to them — there are definitely some big challenges there. Let there be no mistake about it, the AP provides immeasurable value to Google too — they didn’t create the News tab for no reason. I think an amicable resolution between the two is in order.

AP vs. GoogleJarvis’ post is also a foot-stomping little hissy fit. Even though he brings up good points he offers no (re)solution — it’s not like the people leading the newspaper industry have been blind to these changes — but their journey across the chasm has been a tough one and often misguided. They may have missed a huge opportunity (OK, a lot of opportunities) but at the rate of change of the web, evolution for the industry is still possible — but they do have to grab the reins, which is what the most recent move is an attempt at doing.

The situation goes a little like this: Annoyance, pain point, rush to catch up, get left behind, catastrophe, over reaction in one extreme, resolution somewhere in the middle.

I worry about everyone becoming so upset at big media that they turn to content from authors that have no interest in or responsibility to representing the truth in lieu of self-promotion, traffic and links — news spam, misreports, rumors etc. Those (like the New York Times girl) who think that if the news is so important it will find them is also concerning and indicates a potential loss of curiosity and a dangerously self-limiting world view. It is a sad time when our view of the world becomes no broader than the loudest message hitting us in the face on our walk to the bus stop.

This is a larger sociological problem than a media problem — but certainly a gap that the traditional media have been great at filling for generations and is where I think their opportunity for the future still lies.

Being informed and aware is a two-way street.

Google Backlash Creates an Opportunity

Posted on April 9, 2009 by Comments Off

David Patton, Editor in Chief

The recent talk by news organizations and the Associated Press about taking on Google for disseminating their news across the Web could ultimately be good for the overall quality and diversity of information available online.

AP vs. GoogleRight now, each news outlet covers an event or story for its core audience, which is often defined by a geographic area or interest group. This leads to dozens of similar articles that get piled together on the Web by search engines or aggregators. A recent example was the news that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would take a pay cut. This information intersected both business and sports, so dozens of sports and/or business news outlets had similar versions of the story. Few of them offered more insight than the post on one of NFL.com’s blogs.

If the AP or The Wall Street Journal were to remove its version of the news from aggregator or search-engine results, there would still be plenty of other options for people who rely on them for information. And, of course, the content would still be available on their own Web sites.

Also, if news outlets opt out of Google, it creates an opportunity for other voices – not necessarily the media – to be more prominent in search results and therefore a bigger part of the discussion online.

Organizations that want to add their voice need to focus on creating content that is relevant, authentic and credible. Creating useful information that gets discovered when people are searching for it is a way to get a message out at a time when the traditional media is struggling.

AP Takes On Google

Posted on April 6, 2009 by Comments Off

Kristine Gloria, Account Executive, WE Tech Practice

AP vs. Google

In a recent move made by the Associated Press (AP), the organization has officially decided to take legal action against Web sites that use newspaper articles without legal permission. According to the New York Times article, the AP plans to develop a system to track news articles online and to determine if they are being used legally.

This attempt to regulate content distribution will likely affect news aggregators like Google. Author Richard Perez-Pena wrote, “news organizations have been loath to take on Google, whose search engine drives much of the traffic to their own sites. But at a time when newspaper revenue is collapsing and some papers are closing, the prospect of getting a share of Google’s revenue is more tempting than ever.”

Generating significant buzz by this announcement, several influentials have already called into question and compared this tactic to the losing battle initiated by the RIAA against music pirating. Regulating content distribution on the Internet continues to be a heated debate with no clear answer. An interesting point-of-view at this idea of copyright and the internet can be seen in Lawrence Lessig’s recent book, “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.”

Lessig argues that we are now engaged in “a war between an old read-only culture, in which media megaliths sell copyrighted music and movies to passive consumers, and a dawning digital read-write culture, in which audiovisual products are freely downloaded and manipulated in an explosion of democratized creativity.”

Will AP’s attempt to regulate the Internet help or hinder the newspaper industry? Or, is it another example of how these institutions continue to move against the grain to gain control?

NYTimes.com and Knowing the Difference Between Innovation and “Bright & Shiny”

Posted on April 2, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

economy word bubble

Vanity Fair blogger Michael Hogan augments Mark Bowden’s story of New York Times on the precipice with a critical kick at the paper’s sometimes frenetic efforts to reinvent itself online. Although NYTimes.com is arguably the best newspaper website going, Hogan asserts that its dabbling foray into social media with interactive tools — such as with the economy word bubble featured earlier this week — is a foolish investment:

“What, exactly, is the point of this digital toy, which asks readers to describe their feelings about the economy in one word and then posts the results in size-weighted fonts? Sure, it’s kind of cool to look at. But does it really do the Times any good? Does it have anything whatsoever to do with delivering the news of the day?”

This raises two very important — though sometimes at odds — points, which are universal to all brands, not just the imperiled Gray Lady:

1. We mustn’t be transfixed by the bright and shiny. Never should a tool or tactic be executed because it’s cool or buzzy. What are we solving for? Strategy planning should start with a question, not an answer. Social media is not a strategy.

That said, I’d argue that NYTimes.com does in fact have a strategy driving this so-called “digital toy.” I’d posit that it is articulated as some variation on Drive Audience Engagement. By encouraging audiences to lean in and participate with the content, rather than passively consuming it, the newspaper brand is taking incremental steps toward building an invested relationship with its audience.

This strategy should be obvious to those of us in PR and marketing, and the fact that the New York Times gets that in an online world, publishers must learn to think more like marketers is — in my opinion — a glimmer of hope toward successful reinvention.

But the second point that Hogan’s argument reminds us of — by virtue of omission — is this:

2. We mustn’t overlook Return on Innovation in our mad dash for Return on Investment. Innovation is hard, and its rewards aren’t immediate. But innovation has the potential to pay dividends, hand over fist.

The New York Times is not going to succeed in this new free, digital, social media- and search-driven world by stripping itself down to its most bare news essence. The New York Times is going to succeed by exploring new models and testing new paths of information delivery. The fact that social media is not yet monetized does not mean that it won’t be.

This is true for all brands. Of course we are feeling more risk-averse than we did eight months ago, but if we’re going to weather this storm and come out stronger, we must continue to innovate and try new things, even if we don’t right this minute have all the answers.

Designing a New Face for the Gray Lady of the Future

Posted on March 15, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

The state of the news media may be dire, but SXSW is no place for long faces. In the spirit of innovation and reinvention, Tom Bodkin and Khoi Vinh led a discussion this afternoon around Designing the Future of the New York Times.

Here’s a run-down of where their heads are at:

All the code that’s fit to printf(). The New York Times is repositioning itself as, not just a premier source of news and information, but a premier source of data, by opening up APIs and inviting in the developer community to remix NYTimes.com content allowing for integration into the fabric of social media sites. Last summer the Times also launched TimesPeople, a social networking aspect of the site that adds an additional layer of functionality — allowing people to build profiles around the content they consume and share on Facebook, enabling the Times to extend its reach beyond its core reader base.

Designing for mobile consumption. The small screens that are quickly becoming the medium of choice fundamentally transform the way content is experienced. Vinh gets this. In fact, he fully expects that in the not-distant future NYTimes.com will primarily be read on iPhones andKindles. His approach is to design content that is true to the nature of the medium — understanding not just how people read the content on mobile devices, but how people actually use and engage with it.

Integration of text and multimedia. Bodkin explained that the Times is striving to move away from a text-driven format to create a more fluid adjacency of text and interactive/multimedia content to the online experience. He admits that there is currently too much of a divide between text and video, but is working to improve this, indicating that changes will be seen in the coming months. However, it is currently the infographics group that represents the best integration of print and digital; we can expect to see more in this area with the development of an infographic toolbox which will enable multimedia journalists to draw from it on the fly for breaking news stories with a short turn-around.

All good stuff, and a proud demonstration that the design gurus behind The Gray Lady’s evolving GUI have a vision for the future. Let’s just hope the business side of the house can get its creative juices flowing as fast and furiously as the design group.

The new media Church-and-State mash-up

Posted on February 13, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Director, Integrated Communications – WE Studio D

The unhappy fate of the newspaper is TIME magazine’s cover story this week, with a “modest proposal” for a user-pay micropayment system laid out by former managing editor Walter Isaacson. The argument – by now familiar to us all – is that while the predominant philosophy online is in favor of information being free, quality reporting costs money, and quality news coverage therefore cannot – should not? – be free.

As we hear daily reports of declines in print circulation and sweeping newsroom layoffs, the irony is that news consumption is not down. In fact it’s up. But it’s online. And people aren’t paying for it.

Citing the Wall Street Journal’s model of charging a monthly subscription for the online editions, Isaacson notes that WSJ paid subscriptions were up by more than 7% in 2008. This may ultimately be the compromise audiences are willing to strike with a select number of elite news outlets that specialize in exceptionally high quality (read: costly) reporting. But it won’t work for all.

The trouble is, on the social web, information doesn’t stay put. And nor should it. That’s the beauty of it. On the social web, quality content – and influence – radiates in all directions.

Church, meet State

Isaacson may not approve, but there is another model playing out on the web. That which has traditionally been revered as the “Church” and “State” of editorial and commercial interface is beginning to blend into a single amalgam of “content.”

Though this may make the traditionalists among us squirm, here’s the rationale: The digitally-steeped generation of consumers has become accustomed to living in a world of mash-ups and social media in which content of all formats blurs together and consumers customize content in personalized online environments. Consequently, static ad formats like banners lack impact in this user-generated digital world; it’s the integration of brand and content that offers greater potential influence. And increasingly it’s this type of blended content experience that advertisers are looking to buy.

Examples of publishers moving in this direction are ESPN, which is integrating editorial and branded content via a prominent video player on its home page, as with the recent Ford F-150 ad. For some time Federated Media has also been espousing a strategic marketing model it refers to as “conversational marketing” – the idea being that advertisers that recognize and respect the conversation are invited to join the conversation. And popular social media blogger Chris Brogan is also experimenting with the model, publishing a Kmart-sponsored post on his Dad-O-Matic blog in December.

There is push-back to this blurring of lines – as both FM and Chris Brogan have witnessed. The key is maintaining full transparency. And there are certain lines that must not be crossed. Advertisers may be invited into the conversation, but integrity should not be compromised and reporters or bloggers should never be prevented from writing with authenticity.

Web 2.0 = Integration

Online, media brands dissolve. Driven by search, content is king and each story must live or die by its online relevance. Online, influence becomes less about stature and more about ambient resonance. How many fans and followers do you have? How many times is content retweeted and reposted? Did you make it onto Digg’s top story list?

As the news model shifts and reshapes itself, we see traditional reporters reinventing themselves as bloggers. As bloggers, reporters are no longer anonymous bylines behind neutral information, they are expected to put their personalities forward and build a community “fan” base. In this new world, reporters must become their own marketers, and begin thinking about relationship-building and influence-extending like PR practitioners.

Likewise, marketers have the opportunity to themselves become media. In a search- and social media-driven landscape, it’s the quality and relevance of content that drives consumption, not its source. But to be effective, marketers have to learn to think like publishers – they must place their focus squarely on the needs and wants of the audience, not the brand.

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