Business models

troubled water

‘Riptide’ project explains how legacy media got washed out to sea by digital currents

A massive oral history of the digital disruption of legacy journalism models, released Sunday, contends that big news companies made early, repeated and well-funded attempts to adapt to the digital era but have been overwhelmed by bigger forces.

The work, titled “Riptide,” is likely to be controversial. Its authors — John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz and Paul Sagan — did the study as Shorenstein fellows at Harvard and have published it on the Nieman Journalism Lab site. They interviewed a group of 60 people, noticeably lacking in diversity.

There is very little “mea culpa” and a lot of “it made sense to us at the time” on display. While not elegiac, Huey, Nisenholtz and Sagan clearly tilt to the view — well-articulated by Washington Post Editor Marty Baron — that democracy is damaged as fewer professional journalists do what professional journalists do best. Read more

online money

How two small family-owned newspapers in Vermont had success with a paywall

(This case study, the first of an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation. Poynter affiliate Bill Mitchell did the reporting for the article in 2012, and it has been updated and edited by Media Business Analyst Rick Edmonds, who is general editor of the project.)

Most discussion about online paywalls has focused on the big guys, and more recently, on big chains. The New York Times boasts of dramatic results from the wall it erected in March 2011 and its subsequent success selling all-digital subscriptions and print + digital bundles. Gannett is the largest of the many chains that have followed suit and seen growth in circulation revenues, up in 2012 industry-wide for the first time in years.

More and more smaller and mid-sized news organizations are investigating ways to charge for content online, but it is a more daunting task for small papers, especially independents. Read more

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How taxonomies help news organizations understand and categorize their content

News organizations such as the Associated Press, The New York Times and Thomson Reuters are teaching computers to categorize text and images by building robust taxonomies that their systems use to tag news content.

Adding digital information under the hood in this way helps link stories together and serve up relevant content to news audiences.

In a recent interview with Poynter, Associated Press staffers talked about the AP’s News Taxonomy and why a news organization might consider using it.

What’s taxonomy?

Taxonomy is the practice of classifying information. News organizations do this already: putting articles in the sports section instead of the business section is a way of classifying them. What’s different today is organizations are classifying articles using computers instead of human judgment.

Stuart Myles, director of information management at the AP, led the team that built the AP News Taxonomy with machine-learning and natural-language-processing tools to teach computers how to make decisions instead of having a person read every article or look up a caption on every photo. Read more


As brands start building digital newsrooms, what do they need to succeed?

Thanks to social media, we’re getting used to big companies talking directly to us instead of just advertising next to what we’re reading.

When you’re consuming content in a stream — as we do when using Twitter, Facebook or one of the many other social networks — a story from The New York Times, an update from your crazy uncle, and a link to a cleverly captioned photo from Oreo all flow in the same river, and get equal weight.

Today, tools such as Twitter and WordPress have led to an explosion of brands producing and spreading content, competing with traditional media for audience attention and employing journalists as creative storytellers.

If all the content marketing statistics floating around the Web are to be trusted, brand publishing is now a staple of the modern marketing diet. Read more

online money

What news organizations are learning as they refine their digital pay models

Now that the logic and financial benefit of digital pay plans has been broadly (but not universally) accepted at newspaper companies, a second generation of issues and solutions is emerging.

Listening to the final session at the American Society of News Editors Convention last month on paywalls, I had a sense that the conversation has moved well past the basics of whether or not to charge. And the new discussion comes with its own vocabulary: end runs, free samples, foul balls and protein versus potato chips.

The first three terms are variations on a theme: the potential subscriber needs to have a good sense of what he or she is getting and be approached with an artful soft-sell invitation to pay up.

George Rodrigue, managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, which offers select digital content at a premium price, put it this way at the ASNE session: “We decided early that we were for a hard premium wall in concept … but you need to let them in to sample stuff.”

That is a particular issue at The he Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe, whose is a high-end separate offering while the well-established remains free: How do you know whether you want to pay for the new premium site until you can see what is in it? Read more

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Warning Job Loss Ahead

ASNE census finds 2,600 newsroom jobs were lost in 2012

The American Society of News Editors released its annual newsroom census today and found an unexpected acceleration of job losses. Roughly 2,600 full-time professional editorial jobs at newspapers disappeared in 2012, a 6.4 percent decline compared to 2011′s total, leaving industry news employment at 38,000.

That brings the number of reporters, editors and other journalists down almost one-third from a peak of 56,400 in 2000 and down 30.9 percent since 2006. The greatest losses — 13,500 in all — came in the recession years of 2007-2009. But a modest stabilization in 2010 and 2011, when losses slowed to 900 jobs over the two years, now appears to be over.

YEAR         TOTAL        GAIN/LOSS
2007           52,600            -2,400
2008           46,700             -5,900
2009            41,500             -5,200
2010            41,600               +100
2011             40,600             -1,000
2012             38,000              -2,600


The census began in 1978 to track progress in making newspaper staff and leadership more diverse. Read more

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett’s big payday, and other notes on Media General’s merger with Young

Few paid much attention to the blandly worded announcement a week ago of a merger between Media General and New Young Broadcasting. That was no surprise — an agreement between two midsize local broadcasting companies isn’t nearly as big a deal as, say, Gannett’s $2.2 billion acquisition of Belo today.

But there were at least three spicy stories lurking beneath the corporate-speak:

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway cashed in big

In May 2012 Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway bought all of Media General’s newspapers except the Tampa Tribune.

That deal included two related transactions.

First, Berkshire Hathaway loaned Media General $445 million to refinance a crushing debt load coming due. The initial interest rate was an eye-popping 10.5 percent.

Second, as thanks for saving Media General from that life-threatening financial distress, BH received penny-a-share warrants to acquire 19.9 percent of the company — 4.6 million shares in all. Read more

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NewsRight, ambitious attempt at licensing newspaper content, quietly folds

Nieman Journalism Lab | NewsRight

Analyst Ken Doctor reports at Nieman Labs that NewsRight, an industry-owned agency that has tried to license content to aggregators, has gone out of business.

NewsRight’s own news release describes the dissolution a bit differently saying that its database, existing contracts and brand name will go to collaborator Moreover and that anti-piracy advocacy will pass to the Newspaper Association of America.

The company’s roots were in the AP News Registry, a business development project of the Associated Press. In January 2012, that became NewsRight with AP still lead investor and 28 other newspaper companies taking a stake.  Read more


In Fortune, even Web publishers that say they’re profitable don’t share revenues

Fortune | The Atlantic Wire | The New Yorker | TechCrunch | Fast Company

JP Mangalindan looks at the financial health of Web publishers like The Huffington Post, Gawker Media and BuzzFeed. But of the seven companies listed, the piece includes revenue from only one: $12 million at Business Insider last year, a figure that comes not from the company but from a New Yorker profile of BI editor Henry Blodget.

Nailing down just how well each company was doing was a challenge from the beginning, Mangalindan told Poynter.

“The vast majority of these companies are private, and as such, aren’t obligated to break down or disclose their earnings, even when asked,” he wrote in an email. “In the case of HuffPost, it’s owned by AOL, a publicly-traded company, however they do not disclose HuffPost’s exact revenues and profits in their financial statements.” Read more


Fairfax Media CEO suggests deep reductions in legacy costs need to precede reduced print frequency

Talk about digital disruption. The CEO of Australia’s giant Fairfax Media said last week that he is preparing the company to abandon printed newspapers entirely “in three, five or 10 years.”

“Print revenues have been going down and are going down faster now,” Greg Hywood recently told the annual World Congress of the International News Media Association in New York. To the extent print newspapers have a future, he said, they will be “expensive, bespoke and narrowly distributed.”

Pressed on when Fairfax papers in Sydney and Melbourne might reduce frequency to a few days a week, Hywood declined to offer more specifics. He did add, however, that just dropping a day or two might have a minor impact on fixed costs, and “you can lose revenue without comparable savings.”

On one hand, you could view Fairfax as providing lonesome Advance Publications a little long-distance company as it reduces most of its U.S. Read more


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