NewsPay: Bill Mitchell describes what it takes to sustain entrepreneurial journalism.


Brand Bowl makes a run at social media metrics for advertising

For all the measurability of digital publishing, tracking the real impact of social media advertising remains a hope still awash somewhere between art and science.


Brand Bowl, a project organized by a Boston ad agency and presented on, used tweets about Super Bowl ads to fashion formulae gauging reach and sentiment for a five-hour window during and after the game.

USA Today ran an ad meter, too, and others tracked the number of YouTube views of each ad as well as such indices as lift to share price.

I’ll focus on Brand Bowl as one index aimed at combining various metrics. Even though social network advertising is expected to account for only about 10 percent of online ads in the U.S. this year, it’s a fast-growing category that news sites will need to do a better job of understanding and explaining to their advertisers.

Relying on selected keywords, Brand Bowl used a monitoring system called Radian6 to track the total number of tweets about a brand advertised during the game; the calculated sentiment about each brand; and overall performance — the “Brand Bowl score” — in the context of all tweets measured. Read more


Friday, Jan. 07, 2011


MedCity startup yields 7 tips, 2 hot leads for journalism entrepreneurs

When Chris Seper and his colleagues pitched a local nonprofit on investing in their MedCity News startup, his potential investors didn’t focus that much on the quality of MedCity’s reporting or the number of its page views.

Instead, they zeroed in on the scalability of the operation’s “custom content” — previously known in the newspaper business as “advertorial” — and the connections between that content and the firm’s website and syndication services.

Seper, president and co-founder of MedCity, says the importance of custom content didn’t surprise him. But it underlines for me the importance of a line of business that many startups are only beginning to explore: helping customers previously known only as “advertisers” become thought leaders for their own customers. Read more


Monday, Nov. 01, 2010

Winners of Poynter’s Entrepreneurial Journalism Prize Announced

Two ventures focused on civic affairs — I-News and Localocracy — have been selected as winners of the Poynter Promise Prize, an incubation project in entrepreneurial journalism run by The Poynter Institute and funded by the Ford Foundation.

I-News, the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, is a Denver-based nonprofit that produces in-depth investigative reporting that is published on its own site and is distributed to participating news organizations.

Localocracy is a Massachusetts tech start-up that provides an online town common where registered voters using real names can weigh in on local issues. The company licenses tools for audience engagement to news organizations, governments, and local groups.

The winners were selected from a field of 15 finalists in a contest kicked off on Poynter Online Oct. 1. Four judges picked the winners: Bill Mitchell and Wendy Wallace of Poynter’s entrepreneurial journalism faculty, and Mark Briggs and Jeremy Caplan, Poynter’s Ford Fellows in Entrepreneurial Journalism Teaching. Read more


Wednesday, Sep. 22, 2010

Post-Gazette’s Premium PG+ Service Profitable But No ‘Holy Grail’

A year into its subscription-based PG+ service, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned a few things about charging for content online:

  • Profitability is possible, if only modestly so, with incremental online services that control costs.
  • Niche content beats general interest. And sports is the king of the niches, at least in Pittsburgh.
  • The most promising path to the future of newspaper business models begins with the “s” at the end of the word “model.”

The paper launched PG+ Sept. 1, 2009, with content not previously found on the paper’s website, including blogs and chats by sports columnists, an early rough by editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers and a few other features that have since been switched to the free site.

“We didn’t want to just put a pay wall around our website and cross our fingers,” Post-Gazette President Chris Chamberlain told me in a recent phone interview. “We wanted to test the waters of paid content and do it in a way that created new value as opposed to taking it away.”

Revenues exceeding expenses

Access costs $3.99 a month or about $36 a year with an annual subscription. Read more


Sunday, Sep. 12, 2010

10 Ways Journalism Around the World Is Being Revived and Reinvented

Prepping for a session for the International Press Institute (IPI) annual congress last week in Vienna, I asked the panelists, among other things, to describe a media trend they find encouraging. 

In addressing the same question, I found myself hooked by an idea that has no metrics but seems quite real nonetheless: a significant shift in attention from the diminishment of journalism to its rediscovery and reinvention.

This sort of epiphany arrives at different times for different people; many digital pioneers have declared as much for years.

The turning point for me came in the 152-page report on the future of news that I edited for IPI along with Poynter Online Director Julie Moos. The report, “Brave News Worlds: Navigating the New Media Landscape,” was published last week.

The 42 essays were written by news executives, leaders of nonprofits, digital thought leaders and educators from more than 20 countries. Read more


Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010

Telegram & Gazette Pay Meter Can Be Adjusted to Balance Reach & Revenue

When I began poking around Saturday morning, I wasn’t sure how many clicks I had remaining of the 10 that I was entitled to as a registered (but not subscribed) member of the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette’s newly metered site.

After click number 25 or so — it may have been staff writer Bill Ballou’s account of the Jays’ 16-2 trouncing of the Red Sox — I began to suspect the Telegram & Gazette of tweaking the meter.

Publisher Bruce Gaultney confirmed by e-mail that “being able to turn the meter up and down is an advantage of the system,” but he and online director Mark Henderson said they’d made no such adjustment yet.

No matter. Whatever explains my experience, the extra clicks underline a key strength of the metered approach: The ability to adjust the meter however makes sense to manage the tension between revenue and reach. Read more


Thursday, July 22, 2010

GlobalPost to Test ‘Soft Meter’ with Journalism Online

Phil Balboni believes in his bones that consumers will eventually pay for online news.

But the runway he envisions — maybe 10 or 15 years — is too long to count on, even for the well-financed GlobalPost venture he founded 19 months ago in Boston.

So he has an interim plan he expects to roll out as soon as he can finish implementing Journalism Online’s Javascript to make it happen: a soft, metered approach to paid content, set up to “invite support” rather than charge a fee. [Update: Balboni told me by e-mail Monday that launch with the Journalism Online software has been set for Aug. 12.]

“We’re not charging,” he said. “We’re asking people to support GlobalPost journalism — and not without giving them something in return.”

Balboni plans to use Journalism Online for GlobalPost’s Passport membership program. He envisions significant improvements to Passport, accompanied by a price cut. GlobalPost launched Passport last year at $199 a year, cut it to $50, and now will reintroduce it at $29.95. Read more


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Three Early Questions Emerge After Lancaster’s Metered Obit Launch

Memo to news organizations cooking up paid content schemes: Before you go to market, go to school on LancasterOnline and other outfits willing to take some heat for early experiments and mistakes.

LancasterOnline is the Pennsylvania newspaper site that last week began charging readers outside its home county an access fee to view more than seven obituaries per month. (A related development from the supply side: three dozen TV stations have begun charging funeral homes to post obits online and on the air.)

LancasterOnline editor Ernie Schreiber declined my request for numbers of subscribers so far, in part because most readers in Lancaster’s target audience haven’t hit their freebie limit yet. But he did respond to other questions, and we continued our debate about where “new value” fits in the paid content scenario.

If I were among those queuing up with Journalism Online or other vendors pitching pay plans, I would ask questions like these:

  • Is it realistic to ask consumers to empathize with the news industry’s financial plight and pay today for something that was free yesterday?
Read more


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Lancaster Paper Charges to View Obits in First Use of Journalism Online

Monday morning, the website for a midsized paper in southeastern Pennsylvania became the first to go public with the paid content system of Journalism Online, the startup engineered by Steve Brill, Gordon Crovitz and others.

LancasterOnline, which serves the Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era, began informing people who live outside Lancaster County and read its online obituary listings that visiting the obits page will cost $1.99 a month after they’ve viewed seven pages each month. Annual subscriptions cost $19.99.

Over the past several months, I’ve checked in periodically with the plan’s architect, Ernie Schreiber, who has worked for the paper for 37 years and serves now as editor of LancasterOnline.

Among other things, he has shared stats on his site from Google Analytics and the summary sheets he used to come up with his plan.

“It’s not going to amount to enough to reverse the fortunes of our newsroom, in and of itself,” Schreiber told me. Read more


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Financing Final Farewells: and the Business of Death

Newspaper obits have come a long way since the Times of London started publishing its “Death’s Doings” column in the mid-19th Century. But the ongoing pressure for newspapers to generate as much revenue as possible is generating new controversy about what might be termed “death’s commerce.”

Last weekend, an artist and programmer named Maciej Ceglowski published an item to his personal blog headlined “The Great Swindle.” Following the suicide of a friend, Ceglowski encountered the paid obituary services of and The New York Times website. He was not pleased.

In a follow up e-mail, Ceglowski told me “the online obit market is something I gave zero thought to until my friend died, but strikes me as quite interesting (and somewhat sinister) now.”

He was especially upset at the Times’ failure to alert users to the $79 fee for a death notice before charging them for it — a problem has since corrected on its partner site with the Times. Read more