Articles about "Business models"


Guardian builds a business around ‘snacking’

Journalism.co.uk | CJR | PressGazette

Guardian CEO Andrew Miller told attendees of the Digital Media Strategies conference in London that his publication doesn’t assume readers stay with one news source all day long, Rachel Bartlett reports. Keeping the doors to its journalism open, Miller said, means a big audience outside the publication’s native U.K. And indeed the Guardian recently reported double-digit growth in digital revenue.

“The reality of the world is that people snack,” he said, and the Guardian approach is to “build a business around that”, he added.

Miller said entities that refer traffic to the Guardian “aren’t our enemies, these are our friends.” He said it’s “essential to our business model to ensure our journalism is read,” Bartlett reports.

“This isn’t about trying to protect old business models. It is about how the web works.”

A display in the Guardian’s offices in 2013. (AP Photo/Raphael Satter)
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Marc Andreessen (AP photo)

What Marc Andreessen got right and got wrong in his future of news manifesto

When the history of journalism’s turnaround is written some years hence, I think 2013 and 2014 will go down as years when Internet billionaires, the new Carnegies and Rockefellers, stepped into the fray in a big way — Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar (and let’s not forget more traditional rich guys John Henry and Warren Buffett).

Now comes Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder and venture capitalist, with a take on the future of the business that is wildly optimistic, dare we say, irrationally exuberant.

His essay last week on where news is headed, well summarized in a Wired piece and readable itself, projects exponential growth in market demand. Andreessen sees solid Internet businesses with strong financial backing coming into their own even as legacy platforms continue to falter.

Much of his analysis is persuasive if not totally original. He is surely right that rebundling of news is booming. New aggregation sites with a social media twist, led by BuzzFeed, are working ingenious variations on the first wave like The Huffington Post. Google, Facebook and Yahoo — the biggest of the digital bigs — are redoubling efforts to build a branded news presence of their own.

And I can’t quarrel with three concise paragraphs capturing how newspapers and magazines have been battleship-slow turning themselves around:

There are some artifacts and ideas in the journalism business that arguably are counterproductive to the growth of both quality journalism and quality businesses. It’s why some organizations are finding it so hard to move forward.

An obvious one is the bloated cost structure left over from the news industry’s monopoly/oligopoly days. Nobody promised every news outfit a shiny headquarters tower, big expense accounts, and lots of secretaries!

Unions and pensions are another holdover. Both were useful once, but now impose a structural rigidity in a rapidly changing environment. They make it hard to respond to a changing financial environment and to nimbler competition. The better model for incentivizing employees is sharing equity in the company.

Andreessen’s final section, advocating the standard right stuff — including vision, nimbleness, experimentation and an entrepreneurial mindset  – is stylish, canny and upbeat.

The best approach is to think like a 100% owner of your company with long-term time horizon. Then you work backward to the present and see what makes sense and what remains. Versus, here is what we have now, how do we carry it forward?

So the theory is solid. But the facts and numbers? Not so much.

Andreessen casually asserts “the demise of scads of newspapers.” Assuming he hangs with a Silicon Valley crowd, who endlessly repeat the dying industry meme, the mistake is understandable. But very few American papers of any size have closed in the last decade and most of those have been the weaker title in two newspaper towns. Add in Newsweek, if you like (though it has been reconfigured and plans to return to print this month) or some international titles like FT Deutschland.

What would be truer would be to say that nearly all American newspapers, and many abroad, have been significantly shrinking in revenues and news effort during the last decade. And they face more of the same in the near term until they can generate enough digital and other revenue to cover continuing print advertising losses.

A second of Andreessen’s assertions had my jaw dropping:

The total global expense budget of all investigative journalism is tiny —  in the neighborhood of tens of millions of dollars annually.

How’s that? ProPublica alone has a budget north of $10 million, the great majority of it directly applied to investigative reporting. The Texas TribuneThe Center for Investigative Reporting and The Center for Public Integrity all operate on a similar scale. And that’s not counting the New York Times, the Guardian and another 1,350 or so American dailies.

Andreessen may be thinking only of very high-end investigations like the WikiLeaks and Snowden disclosures. But surely the Bergen Record and The Wall Street Journal exposes on the Christie administration bridge traffic debacle qualifies. While local broadcast fare, helping the little guy straighten out problems with shoddy contractors and unresponsive bureaucrats, is not my favorite, I’d count it too as investigative reporting,

Andreessen would be right to say it does not take billions and billions of dollars to do the world’s investigative reporting. But the total is certainly hundreds of millions, not tens.

A major order-of-magnitude issue also afflicts Andreessen’s central contention — that the news industry can grow 10 times to 100 times its current size over the next 20 years.

He is talking about the whole world, a potential market, he says, of 5 billion people.  Give them all a smart phone and an iPad, and consumption will rise. And the new era of news has ample room for many aggregators, many tech innovators and many vendors — all turning profits.

But I cannot get to 10 times, let alone 100, unless 240-hour days are right around the corner. There is only so much time, and only so much time for consuming news, even with double screening. And part of the news industry’s problem is competition for that time from non-news entertainment content and diversions like games and Facebooking.

The Wired piece and several contributors to its comment chain say that for venture capitalists like Andreessen market opportunities are never just big, they are huge. By his own description, he is “more bullish (on the business) than almost anyone I know.”

In sum, Andreessen’s interest is a plus just by itself. His ideas are useful. He makes a good case that the news business will soon clearly be recognized as expanding not contracting. But apply a generous discount to Andreessen’s measuring-the-market numbers before you take them to the bank.

We’ve asked Andressen through his company Andresseen Horowitz if he’d like to write a post for us on his views. Although we haven’t heard back, that invitation remains open. Read more

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At Circa, it’s not about ‘chunkifying’ news but adding structure

You sometimes hear what we do at Circa described as “chunkifying” — taking the news and presenting it in mobile-friendly chunks. And while on the surface this observation is correct, it misses the bigger picture.

Yes, each “point” of Circa is a single unit of news — something designated as a fact, quote, statistic, event or image. We thread these points together to tell stories. The end result is succinct and allows us to track which points a reader has consumed, powering our unique “follow” feature.

But I often respond to talk of chunkifying by pointing out that what we’re really doing at Circa is adding structure to information — and it could be the most powerful thing we do. Indeed, there’s an increasing amount of discussion around “atoms” of news. But the interesting thing about those atoms of news isn’t that they’re short — that’s another surface observation. The interesting thing is how those atoms combine.

The assumed output of a reporter is the “article.” That’s what reporters are supposed to produce during their work day, and it’s the default unit by which journalists organize their data. There’s plenty of information in the text that’s produced, but how much of that information is structured? In a typical content management system (CMS) you’ll find a headline field, a main text field, information about the article’s creator, a date of its creation and maybe a field for some meta-tags — usually basic nouns — included as an afterthought, often for SEO purposes.

If I just described 90 percent of the CMSes you’ve used, read on.

The value of journalism comes from filtering things out of the flow of information and serving them up to readers. But those basic fields in the CMS fail to capture a lot of the value of information invested in the reporting process. If you asked a reporter about the information in an article you’d get specifics: It contains a quote from the mayor, some statistics about government spending, the announcement of a new zoning permit, a description of a local event, and so on. But that information is adrift inside the main unit of the article — without structure it’s lost, except for the ability to search for a string of words in Google.

At Circa we do things differently. The process of creating a story requires the writer to tag information in a structured way. If we insert a quote, we have two extra fields for the name of the person quoted and an alias — their working title. As a result, I can ask our chief technology officer to search our database for all the quotes we have from, say, Eric Holder. I can also ask to have that search refined by date(s) or topics: “Give me all the Eric Holder quotes from the last six months that are associated with the IRS. Also, I’d like all the aliases we’ve used for him.”

In a newsroom where data is unstructured this task would be incredibly time-consuming if not impossible. But because our content is structured, at Circa it’s simply a matter of asking.

The CMS or platform that a news organization uses to create content isn’t neutral. Decisions made in building or configuring that CMS define the way news is displayed later. If an input field for the “location” of an event doesn’t exist, then the only way to surface all events that took place at a specific location is to conduct a painstaking search through the blobs of words that exist in the main content field of articles.

Modern journalists are actually more familiar with the idea of structured data than they may realize. Part of the beauty and charm of the Pulitzer-winning PolitiFact is their Truth-O-Meter. The Truth-O-Meter is a way that PolitiFact structures data: Every “article” is tagged at some level, and if I want to find all the “Pants on Fire” stories, here they are. That’s not an accident: PolitiFact decided to build that into their CMS, into the very DNA of what they do. (You can also query by speakers and subjects.)

The job of a reporter is to collect, filter, organize and then deliver information. Shouldn’t a CMS capture the level of detail that we invest in that process from the start? Why do we always invoke the idea of narrative structure over structured data?

Here’s something Ezra Klein wrote in discussing his move to his new venture at Vox: “The software newsrooms have adopted in the digital age has too often reinforced a workflow built around the old medium. We’ve made the news faster, more beautiful, and more accessible. But in doing we’ve carried the constraints of an old technology over to a new one.” As Steve Buttry leads “Project Unbolt,” I suspect one of the barriers Digital First Media will need to confront is that their CMS is designed to produce articles, an increasingly arcane manner of structuring information.

Data-driven journalism is, of course, a growing movement. The best-understood example of data-driven journalism is the crime map: we collect the location/type of crimes and then overlay that information on a map. Because there’s structure to the information, we can surface greater meaning from it.

The question, however, is if we can expand this concept beyond the low-hanging data sets. At Circa we’re trying to answer that question, starting with the realization that we’re dealing with data all the time — we only need to organize it.

David Cohn is director of news at Circa and a member of Poynter’s adjunct faculty. Previously he worked on some of the first endeavors exploring crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in journalism. You can find him on Twitter at @digidave. Read more

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Copy-spaced image of a young man drinking morning coffee and reading the newspaper at home (Depositphotos)

Why is local news innovation struggling financially while national thrives?

On the national level, we’ve seen an exciting burst of investment and innovation in digital news.

The New York Times crowed that “Web News Is Thriving,” the evidence being that Ezra Klein, the wonk’s wonk, is starting an explanatory journalism venture at Vox Media. This comes soon after the news that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is doing a massive $250 million investment in a new journalism project. And the success of BuzzFeed, Upworthy and Huffington Post has showed that content oriented sites can be business successes.

But the headlines are bleaker when it comes to local news. With a fresh round of layoffs, Patch has now purged three-quarters of its workforce. Main Street Connect, a platform for local news that got much attention a few years ago, filed for bankruptcy in May 2013. Read more

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Poynter's Future of News Audiences conference kicks off Sunday with a discussion on demographic trends with Paul Taylor, executive vice president of special projects at the Pew Research Center, and moderator Jill Geisler, Poynter senior faculty, leadership and management. (Dave Pierson/The Poynter Institute)

Future of News Audiences: what’s next as young fail to become strong news consumers

Paul Taylor, executive vice president of special projects at the Pew Research Center, talks about demographic trends impacting the news industry, at a Poynter discussion moderated by Jill Geisler, Poynter senior faculty, leadership and management.

Journalism executives and other participants at Poynter’s Future of News Audiences conference heard Sunday night what some would have preferred not to hear: younger generations simply aren’t growing into dedicated consumers of news the way their parents and grandparents did.

As young adults age and begin families, the theory goes, they start to care more about the world around them and read the news — a development that would help reverse the fortunes of news organizations which have seen precipitous declines in their audience numbers. But this may be a false hope — so far there is no “life cycle” effect, at least none that can be detected.

Paul Taylor, Pew Research Center executive vice president of special projects, said researchers in 2012 asked consumers how many minutes they devoted to taking in the news the day before. While the Silent Generation spent 84 minutes with the news, Boomers devoted 77 minutes and Gen Xers reported 66 minutes, Millennials said they spent just 46 minutes consuming news — a figure that hasn’t changed appreciably since 2004.

Decreasing news consumption among younger consumers is a challenge for news executives, more than two dozen of whom are meeting at Poynter through Monday to discuss how audiences are changing — and journalism with it.

The country is in the throes of a dramatic demographic transition, Taylor said: the United States will soon be a majority of minorities, and its population is growing ever older. And for the first time in U.S. history, young adults in their 20s and 30s are worse off than their parents, with less wealth and higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Further, when the young grow old, the traditional safety net provided by Social Security and Medicare won’t be as strong as it was for their parents and grandparents.

“The math doesn’t work anymore,” Taylor said. “You end up with a generation aging in with its own economic difficulties.”

For news organizations, the dilemma is how to engage this younger audience. Taylor said the Millennial generation is interested in the world, but doesn’t feel a strong need to tap traditional news sources. Instead, younger consumers are more likely to “bump” into the news as they go about their way on social media.

They also are somewhat narcissistic, Taylor said, and more wary than their elders of institutions — religious, political, economic, and perhaps media as well.

Yet Taylor said he remains optimistic about the future of news.

“I don’t think it is inevitable that people will lose an appetite for news,” he said, noting the human need to know what is going on. At the end of the day, he said, people do want a clearer understanding of the developments around them and better ways to navigate information than they have now.

If nothing else, Taylor said, he wanted to leave the message that there are stories to be told in these shifting trends, many of which Taylor and his colleagues at Pew have captured in a new book, “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown” scheduled for release in March.

The Future of News Audiences conference, supported by the MacArthur Foundation and the Council for Research Excellence, continues Monday. Among the discussions will be one focused on audiences for news and information that serve democracy, led by Vivian Schiller, Twitter’s head of news.

Related:  Pew surveys of audience habits suggest perilous future for news | Pew: TV is ‘the dominant way that Americans get news at home’  Read more

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Understanding opportunities and challenges in sponsored content (Replay chat)

Shane Snow, cofounder with two friends of Contently, manages a network of 25,000 freelancers. According to Contently’s website, the sweet spot where these freelancers thrive is creating content for “brands, nonprofits, and lean new media companies.”

Snow and his team, described as a mashup of journalists and nerds, are on the front edge of branded content or native advertising.

Forbes, a Contently client, recognized Snow this month in “30 under 30: These People are Building the Media Companies of Tomorrow.”

Snow joined us for a live chat on the opportunities, challenges and values of sponsored content.

Participants asked Snow about the ins and outs of branded content.

Twitter users can participate in any Poynter live chat using the hashtag #poynterchats. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended. You can find the archive of all past chats at www.poynter.org/chats.

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How news nonprofits are making money

How can nonprofit news organizations diversify their revenue streams? A recent report from the Knight Foundation surveyed 18 nonprofit news outlets between 2010 to 2012 to find the most effective practices in the areas of finances, organizational structure and audience engagement.

Although most nonprofits increased revenue, relying less on foundation grants and bringing in money from individual donors, sponsorships, events and syndication, financial stability is still a big concern for nonprofit news.

Our guests: Anne Galloway, the founder and editor of Vermont-based VTDiggerMark Katches, the editorial director of the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, and Mayur Patel, the Knight Foundation’s vice president of strategy and assessment.

VTDigger is a five-year-old organization with six full-time employees and an annual budget under $400,000; CIR was founded in 1977 and has a staff of 73 and a budget of $10 million.

You can replay this chat at any time and find our chat archives at www.poynter.org/chats.

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For Modern Farmer, farm stands hold more promise than newsstands

When Modern Farmer launched its GoatCam in September, Editor-in-Chief Ann Marie Gardner was surprised to hear from people working at the Pentagon.

“They had a suggestion for changing the angle of the camera so they could see the goats better,” Gardner said in a phone interview.

Gardner (Photo by David Harriman)

Modern Farmer is proving adept at finding audiences in places one wouldn’t expect. Since launching this past April, its article on why cow-tipping is nearly impossible has become a viral hit, BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos has written about how to behave at a farmers market and President Clinton has jawed about farming in its pages. (He remembers he once “badly lost a head-butting contest to a ram.”)

The Hudson, N.Y.-based publication offers a daily report online as well as a quarterly print magazine. Its target audience isn’t just urban weenies obsessing about kale, but people who are interested in the stories behind their food. Climate science, food policy and (oh yeah) actual agriculture are all coverage areas. Judging by the emails she’s received, Gardner said, farmers appreciate that the publication is “not insulting.”

“We’re credible with farmers because of the stories we’re telling,” she said. “And because we’re focused on solutions, which is something they appreciate.”

Rwanda’s agriculture minister Agnes Matilda Kalibata talked about the country’s agricultural renaissance in the Fall 2013 issue, while Jesse Hirsch reported on the difficulty of controlling wild pigs in the magazine’s premiere.

Gardner said Modern Farmer has 10 employees, five of whom have full-time editorial jobs. Its staff writers are expected to file three stories per day, which don’t necessarily land in the print edition: “It just feels like different things live differently in print,” Gardner said. “It feels internally very clear what the difference is.” A long investigative piece will probably hit the print edition first, for instance.

Gardner is also the company’s CEO, a new role for someone who’s been a journalist for most of her career, working for Monocle and The New York Times among other publications. As she planned Modern Farmer, she said, she decided that the website would be free, calling a paywall a “total turnoff … We think we can generate revenue from different sources.” Modern Farmer has an e-commerce site and Gardner said that “eventually we see ourselves doing events.”

(The Canadian tycoon Frank Giustra is Modern Farmer’s primary investor. He’s a partner of the Clintons in an anti-poverty initiative and helped arrange Modern Farmer’s interview with the former president.)

Modern Farmer does sell subscriptions to its print edition, which feels and looks terrific and shows ads for Bonterra organic wine alongside ones for Kioti tractors and Muck boots.

Single-copy sales, though, are more challenging: The number of newsstands continues to fall, and competition for space on the remaining shelves is fierce. Gardner is still thinking through that aspect of the business, musing that “there has to be a better way” to get magazines to readers. Modern Farmer could try to tap farmers markets as distribution points, or partner with community-supported agriculture outfits, she suggested.

“Think about who’s reading us — they’re eating organic vegetables and having them delivered to their house,” she said.

Gardner said while Modern Farmer was in the planning stages, people she spoke to at tractor shows saw her publication as being for the “lifestyle farmer, the hobby farmer — which definitely is part of the people we talk to.” But now that Modern Farmer is a reality, she added, “some bigger farmers are fascinated by the magazine, too.” She said her favorite reaction from readers is when they say, “I never knew farming was relevant to me.”

Correction: This post originally misspelled a writer’s first name: He is Jesse Hirsch, not Jessie.


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At Dallas Morning News, digital is a complement to print, not a substitute

There’s definitely something different about The Dallas Morning News’ new premium website: Unlike the Boston Globe’s two-website strategy, for instance, people who subscribe aren’t getting exclusive articles, but they are getting more photos and fewer ads.

Is that worth $2.99 per week? As Nieman Lab director (and former Dallas Morning News reporter) Joshua Benton tweeted, that doesn’t seem like a great deal:

Not surprisingly, that’s not how The Dallas Morning News looks at this new product, which is meant to replace its paywall as a source of revenue from digital readers. Reached by phone, News chief marketing officer Jason Dyer said the company’s research showed that “our print reader doesn’t see digital as a substitute for print. We do have data that indicates they see it as a complement.” Read more

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Nonprofit journalism sites are proving to be healthy but slow to scale

A recent Pew Research Center/Knight Foundation roundtable conference on the future of nonprofit journalism had the feeling of an annual physical. After three hours of poking and probing, the sector was found to be slowly getting stronger but with some serious lingering issues.

On the good news half of the examination, sites aimed at doing serious journalism, often investigative, are growing in number. Pew counted 174 in a study released this June.  And some potential heavyweight funders, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, were represented at the meeting.

Another plus is that many of the nonprofit startups are finding partners in legacy media willing to publish their reports to a wider audience. Many ProPublica stories have a national or regional publishing partner, and the Tampa Bay Times’ recent expose of America’s worst charities was a joint project with the Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN. That can open syndication as a possible revenue stream or at least spread the impact of the work beyond an organization’s own site.

The Pew study, and one in progress by Knight, are amplifying earlier reports that the strongest nonprofits are developing diverse sources of support and typically have some of their staff dedicated to the business and technical sides of the venture. However, while that works well for the bigger sites, like ProPublica or Texas Tribune, or a mid-sized one like MinnPost, it is hard to pull off at a small site with two to five employees.

Typically, nonprofit sites are launched with initial funding from a foundation or benefactor. Then the race is on to find support from other smaller foundations and individual donors, while developing advertising or special events as secondary revenue streams.

Dick Tofel, president of ProPublica, said that when the investigative site started in 2007, 90 percent of funding came from Herb and Marion Sandler. Last year, the Sandler percentage fell to 38, and he hopes to reduce it further to 30 this year. In a similar vein, John Thornton, the venture fund financier who launched Texas Tribune, said he had put in his second $1 million contribution and is done.

While operating as a nonprofit has the obvious advantage of attracting tax free donations, Tofel said, he has come to believe that there is a downside as well.

“Operating losses are economically sound if you are building enterprise value,” he said.  So The Huffington Post (barely profitable if at all) sold to AOL, and Twitter, among others, is preparing an initial public offering to go public. But, Tofel continued, “there is no such thing in a nonprofit; you cannot cash out.”

Another challenge is establishing metrics of success. Foundations are accustomed to getting detailed statistics demonstrating impact. But, as American University’s Chuck Lewis explored in a recent paper, hard-charging investigative reporters are unlikely to slow down to gather that documentation, nor is it clear just what constitutes proof that a site is making good on its goals.

Joel Kramer, founder of MinnPost, was blunt on the state of audience metrics. “Uniques are worse than worthless,” he said, since a high percentage of those look quickly at the site or a headline and never come back. However, Kramer has found that readers who return even four times a month are potential donors.

But the biggest issue for the sector is scale and finding major funding for expanding existing sites and starting new ones. Steven Waldman, lead author of the Federal Communications Commission report on shortfalls in robust accountability journalism in the broadband era, said he is still searching for a breakthrough.

“The winners in the new economy,” like Google, Apple and AT&T, Waldman said, are making tens of millions in profit per quarter. “If they would put just a tiny part of that into this problem,” he said, serious journalism could thrive.

There also appear to be some new challenges. Michael Maness, who heads Knight’s Journalism and Media innovation programs, said he still sees too much legacy thinking both in operational management and in content creation and display. He mentioned NPR’s recent redesign as a model of getting rid of “a newspaper-looking site” in favor of strong display on smartphones and tablets.

But modest nonprofits will find those changes hard to bring off and have no access to the capital that top sites like The Wall Street Journal and New York Times are putting into new technology.

Several at the conference mentioned the potential of establishing shared services, both for fundraising, management and tech development. But full details of how that might be done will wait for another day and another conference.

Meanwhile, it was encouraging to sit next to 20-something Elizabeth Green, who has launched a succession of New York education reform sites, and with 12 employees is now larger than average, according to Pew’s classification. Or to chat with Steve Beatty of The Lens in New Orleans, who is finding his site’s stories picked up by NOLA.com and the competing Advocate, as well as public radio.

But even the growth trajectory comes with a caution. Texas Tribune’s Thornton said there was a surge of launches in 2008 and 2009 when it appeared many newspapers might soon drop dead. But that wave, he said, “fizzled when people realized newspapers were not going away,” (though their newsrooms are still shrinking in 2013). Read more

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