Monday, August 1, 2011

If your news site isn’t social, great design won’t matter

There’s been a lot of sound and fury in the media sphere recently, sparked by a blog post from web designer Andy Rutledge that tore apart the New York Times website for being ugly and cluttered. This caused a firestorm of sorts on Twitter, as defenders of the site argued that most of his criticisms and proposed solutions were unrealistic — which many of them arguably are. But the biggest blunder Rutledge commits is when he argues that news sites should avoid social-recommendation elements, when the opposite is true.
Many of Rutledge’s points about the New York Times site have a lot of truth to them, and he makes a point of saying that his criticisms are not specific to the NYT, but apply to plenty of other newspaper websites as well. The biggest issue — as anyone who has spent any time trying to find a specific story on the NYT home page will likely agree — is that the site is literally crammed to the rafters with links. Not only is there a navigational sidebar with links to every section of the paper, and section menus, but there are hundreds of separate links and other elements on every page. Says Rutledge:
"I think the object of the game must be to fit as much “content” onto the page as possible in an effort to overwhelm the reader, tricking them into believing that the NY Times is just bursting with a mindbogglingly-bottomless array of important information. If only the reader could learn to ignore 60% of what’s here, she might have a chance at a pleasant experience."

The problem of too much content
To avoid this cluttered look, Rutledge argues that the NYT and other sites should strip out most of what they put on their pages — including much of the navigation — and make their search better and their classification systems more intuitive so readers can find what they want. And he gives credit to many news sites for having mobile versions and iPad apps that do a better job of streamlining their content for browsing, although he argues that many still try to cram too much into a single page.
Lauren Rabaino at the blog 10,000 words has done an admirable job of collecting some of the negative reactions to Rutledge’s post, as has Danny DeBelius. One of the designer’s critics is Nieman Journalism Lab editor Joshua Benton, who argues that Rutledge is ignoring the fact that the New York Times produces a vast amount of journalism and content every day, and that the website has to not only look nice but provide an easy way to navigate through all this content.
But Rutledge doesn’t so much ignore this fact as argue that most of that ocean of NYT content simply isn’t that important to most people, which gets to the core of the problem: for the most part, the New York Times website — like most news websites — is created and designed for some mythical reader who is interested in everything the paper produces. The reality, of course, is that there are virtually no such readers (or at least extremely few of them), and designing for them is a mistake.

No one is interested in everything
Everyone has certain things they are interested in at the NYT or many other news sites, and lots of other things that they couldn’t care less about. That’s why so many have turned to social media tools like Twitter as news sources — not just because it is real-time, and more personal, but also because a person’s social graph via Facebook or Twitter can act as a filter. This is summed up by the famous statement made by a young internet user in a consumer survey on news habits, who said: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” Is a great newspaper website design going to influence that process? Unlikely.
Which is why it’s so odd to see the designer say, in his new rules for news sites, that newspapers should dispense with the “most popular” and other recommendation features they have, and not worry about social media at all. He says:
"There is no “most popular” news. There is news and there is opinion and they are mutually exclusive. Popularity of stories is something not contextual to news sites, but to social media sites… News is not social media. If it is, it fails to be news."
This misses the point by a country mile, in a couple of different ways, as Martin Belam from The Guardian and others have noted. For one thing, recommendation tools like “most popular” — or “recommended,” in the case of the New York Times — as well as the “like” buttons and other tools that allow people to share articles through Facebook and elsewhere, can be hugely useful both for readers and for the publications that use them. The Huffington Post achieved some dramatic traffic and engagement growth when it integrated Facebook Connect and made it easy for readers to see what their friends had shared, and others have seen similar jumps from Google+.
To say that “there is no most-popular news” ignores the fact that millions of people like to share news stories with their friends and followers, and that this is an integral part of what the media business is today — whether it’s individually-curated aggregators like or, or a more ambitious attempt to create a customized digital newspaper or magazine like Flipboard is becoming. And to argue that news “is not social media [and] if it is, it fails” shows a similar lack of insight into how digital media functions.
All media is effectively social, whether news organizations like the New York Times and others want it to be or not. To ignore that seems like incredibly bad advice from someone who claims to have the industry’s best interests at heart.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Newspapers Define Pillars of Transformation at mediaXchange

By Mark Contreras
(The following is an excerpt from the speech Mark Contreras gave at the Newspaper Association of America's mediaXchange conference in Dallas, March 25-28, 2011)

The cowboy-poet Jim Moroney has always been an inspiration and role model for me, and a comment he made several months prior to the April board meeting of the NAA made a lasting impact. He said, "I don't mind getting together to do things. I just don't want to waste our time getting together to talk about doing things and then never accomplishing anything."
Much of what Jim said helped guide the tone, cadence, and sense of urgency for what the NAA board accomplished during the past 12 months, and I now hear Jim's prodding in many of the discussions occurring in the industry today.
Last April, we sent out a widely distributed note to those in the NAA database asking a simple question: "What are the two or three issues important to your business that the newspaper industry should try to solve collectively?"
The note went on to say, "Our goal is to cull your responses and, early this summer, gather a group of willing industry participants to discuss appropriate action and then act."
We got a very good response from a large cross-section of NAA members, and Randy Bennett and his staff whittled the responses down to approximately 60 themes. Then we got them down to 13 themes, and then - during a special board meeting in August in Chicago - to four:

* We must better protect our intellectual property and better monetize our content.
* Newspapers must agree upon mobile advertising standards.
* We must better communicate and promote the full value of the audiences we deliver across multiple media.
* We must provide an industry-wide digital shopping experience, particularly for our national advertisers.

I'd like to walk you through each of these four areas of opportunity and share how your board turned each of these opportunities into action.

Getting Paid for Content
A recent PEW study confirmed something very important: Newspapers still account for more than half of all originally reported journalism in the United States.
That journalism comes from our talent, our investment, our infrastructure, and our experience. It's the very heart of our business. But the question is, what do we get for all that?
The answer: not enough.
Way too many Web businesses are getting a free ride from the content we create. We've worked hard at the policy level to protect our intellectual property, yet the content produced by more than 1,400 newspapers is still circulating out there in a literal free-for-all of electronic cut-and-paste.
Technology and the Internet will continue to morph, tantalizing consumers with new devices and even more ways to receive news and information. Getting our content on those screens is easy. Getting it there in a way that is profitable and protects our investment is another matter entirely.
The good news is that it can work.
Working from the foundation provided by the AP's news registry, and from consensus achieved during last summer's board meeting, the industry is forming the News Licensing Group: a separate, industry-operated organization dedicated to tracking, licensing, and finding new models to monetize our medium's high-quality content. None of this would have happened without the courageous leadership
of the AP's Tom Curley.
Today, they have received commitments for funding and are putting leadership into place.

Mobile Ad Standards
While we eagerly follow the progress of the News Licensing Group, we're also tackling issues related to the explosion of digital mobility.
By next year, there will be 250 million wireless devices: Smartphones, tablets, iPads, e-readers, and other mobile screens are being activated at the rate of 200,000 per day worldwide.
In the past, newspaper companies have left money on the table by not making it easier for customers to buy across markets in print and on the Web. In the mobile space, we now have a sizeable opportunity to collaborate on standard business practices and a national sales strategy.
One industry watcher refers to it as our "digital do-over."
Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, and a large group of companies are leading the effort to develop a more efficient sales network for advertisers; one that offers easy access to high-quality newspaper audiences across the nation.

Industry Promotion
The NAA board approved an industry-wide promotion campaign that you'll be hearing lots about in the near future. The campaign will highlight the powerful attributes that our audiences bring to the table.
Donna Barrett, CEO of Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., demonstrated impressive leadership in moving us toward a campaign that companies with both big newspapers and small newspapers could get behind. She wisely enlisted the help of the Martin Agency, famous for the GEICO Gecko campaign and several others.
You'll find the campaign new, fresh, and complete with a great tag line: "Smart is the new sexy."

Digital Shopping Experience
Advertisers also communicated their needs in digital media, and so our next focus is to better position newspapers to capture retail dollars as they inevitably move from print to digital.
Several companies are building robust digital-shopping platforms, and we have asked the industry to coalesce around two or three, rather than 10 or 12, to again provide a more efficient buy for retailers.
We're also looking to develop standard business practices across platforms and exploring a national sales channel to promote our value proposition and drive more digital revenue to newspaper properties.
We're in about the 7th inning of this process, and Doug Franklin, the recently promoted president of Cox Media, deserves enormous credit for his fair and persistent leadership in this endeavor.
All of us owe Tom Curley, Jim Moroney, Donna Barrett, and Doug Franklin a very big thank-you for their selflessness on behalf of our industry.
Will these four initiatives automatically solve all of our economic and audience challenges? No, but I firmly believe that they will help change minds and change perceptions of our industry in the years ahead.

A Single Definition of Online Audience
There's another area of concentration that I'm partial to, one that cuts across the four priorities I've just laid out, and that is to create a more unified and powerful argument concerning the audiences we reach.
Have you ever tried to get directions from a group of people who all want to help? How about if they all spoke a different language? That's what our advertisers are grappling with.
Three or four different systems are competing to tell the world how to measure and value our digital audience. We need a gold standard of measurement: one way of looking at digital audiences and one way of presenting the facts to advertisers.
We've just signed on to a coalition led by the Interactive Advertising Bureau that includes the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the NAA.
The long-term goal is to create one trusted third-party with broad oversight of the audience metrics process that will be clear, consistent, accepted, and unimpeachable - driven by the business needs of buyers and sellers, not the interests of the research suppliers.
It's an important step for advertisers and media buyers across platforms, but it's a critical step for newspapers because without this there is no credible way to tell the story that I believe to be true with all my heart: Newspapers have never reached larger audiences than they do today.
There's just no mutually agreed-upon way to tell that story today, but I believe that's about to change.
The excellent work being done by NAA staff is helping to further this business in so many ways: from the wonderful programming for this meeting, to creating a bridge between our industry and digital giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
And they ensure that critical messages about the growth in online ad revenue, the realities of our reach, and our increasing digital muscle are well-covered within the business, financial, and trade press.
Overall, the staff of NAA - John, Paul, Randy, and others - have been extremely hard at work on our behalf, and we owe them a debt of gratitude as well.
We have a large, complex, and pressing to-do list. We have to accept the complexity and embrace the urgency. But in the process, we can't lose our identity or forget why our newsrooms are so important to the communities we serve.
The reason I got into this business is because I worked for Paul Simon, former senator from Illinois. He was a great legislator, first in the House, then a long career in the Senate.
He was a very smart man: author, Harvard professor, presidential candidate, but he started as a newspaper publisher.
He turned a bankrupt paper, the Troy Tribune, into a successful chain of 14 weeklies. His editorial stances - particularly campaigns against government corruption - pointed him toward politics.
At the height of his legislative power, he told me something I've never forgotten: "I love being a senator," he said, "but I made much more of a difference as a publisher."
It wasn't until I was well into this business myself that I began to understand the full meaning behind those words.
A cheap laptop and some free software means anybody can publish, but that does not make them a newspaper publisher. With enough time, some smart investment, creative thinking, and shared commitment, we can do what anybody in media can do.
But nobody can do what we do.
Nobody has the infrastructure, the history, or the responsibility. It's ours. And we can build on it. But to build with effectiveness and relevance we can't look at the world from 1,400 perspectives. We're one industry.
We have to use the leadership and the resources of the NAA to maximum effect. We have to focus on the main pillars of transformation, the value of our content, the value of our reach, and the value of our role in a free and informed society.

* Mark Contreras is senior vice president/newspapers at the E.W. Scripps Co.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ten things every journalist should know about data

Every journalist needs to know about data. It is not just the preserve of the investigative journalist but can – and should – be used by reporters writing for local papers, magazines, the consumer and trade press and for online publications.
Think about crime statistics, government spending, bin collections, hospital infections and missing kittens and tell me data journalism is not relevant to your title.
If you think you need to be a hacker as well as a hack then you are wrong. Although data journalism combines journalism, research, statistics and programming, you may dabble but you do not need to know much maths or code to get started. It can be as simple as copying and pasting data from an Excel spreadsheet.
You can find out more about getting started and trying your hand at complex data journalism at news:rewired – noise to signal, on 27 May. More details about the event are here and you can order tickets, which cost £156 including VAT, by clicking here.

Here are 10 reasons to give data a go.

1. Everybody loves a list. Did you click on this post as you wanted an easy-to-read list rather than an involved article?

2. Everybody loves a map. Try Quantum GIS (QGIS), a free, open source tool, or OpenHeatMap, a fantastic, east-to-use tool as long as your data is categorised by country, local authority, constituency, region or county.

3. Tools bring data to life. Applications such as ManyEyes and Yahoo Pipes mash data and turn complex numbers and datasets into easy to read visualisations that work well both online and in print. Try this how to guide to Yahoo Pipes to get you started. Here are 22 data visualisation tools from Computer World.

4. Data may need cleaning up. Try using clean up tools like Scraperwiki, which helps non-technical journalists copy a few lines of code to turn a document such as pdf into a number-friendly file like a csv, and Google Refine, which Paul Bradshaw has written some useful posts on over on the Online Journalism Blog.

5. Data of all sorts is increasingly available. The open data movement across the UK is resulting in an increase in the release of data. The possibilities are huge, says Paul Bradshaw on the Guardian’s Datablog. January 2010, saw the launch of, a fantastic resource for searching for datasets.

6. Data journalism can answer questions. A good place to start in data journalism is to ask a question and answer it by gathering data. Numbers work well. One option is to submit a Freedom of Information request to ask for the numbers. It helps if you ask for a csv file.

7. You can use the crowd. Crowdsourcing by asking a question on Twitter or using a site like Help Me Investigate, an open source tool for people can use to collaborate to investigate questions in the public interest.

8. Data can be personal to every reader. DocumentCloud can highlight and annotate documents to help readers see what is important and learn a document’s back story.

9. “Data journalism is not always presenting the data as journalism. It’s also finding the journalism within the data,” Jay Rosen said in relation to this article on Poynter on how two journalists from the Las Vegas Sun spent two years looking at 2.9 million documents to find out what “what’s right, and wrong, about our local health care delivery system”. The result was that the journalists exposed thousands of preventable medical mistakes in Las Vegas hospitals. The Nevada legislature responded with six pieces of legislation.

10. “Data ethics is just as important as ethics in journalism, in fact they are one in the same,” according to this post on Open Data Wire. Consider the BBC’s FoI request which showed a 43 per cent rise in GPs signing prescriptions for antidepressants and the ethics of unquestioningly relating this to the recession. Ben Goldacre has highlighted the problems with seeing patterns in data.


Journalists need to better understand the business of digital journalism, study says

The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has published a new report on digital news economics, which highlighted how the relationship between content and advertising is changing, and what this means for the news business. The report comes just after the Pew Research Center's report on how people navigate the digital news environment
The main aim of Columbia's research was to find out what kinds of digitally based journalism the US commercial market is likely to support, and how.
The definition of digital journalism is broad: it includes online phenomenon (the Internet and computers) as well as mobile devices like phones and tablets.
Amongst much interesting analysis - the report is 146 pages long and is divided in 9 chapters - one part is devoted to the relationship between the news industry and the advertising market.
Felix Salmon pointed this out on his Reuters' blog. He quotes a passage of the report saying:
"For decades, there has been a connection between the journalism that news organizations provide and the advertisements that generate most of their revenue. Whether it's a glossy spread that runs before the table of contents in a fashion magazine, or the anchor-man's "more after this message" assurance on the local Eyewitness News, ads and content have always been closely linked in the stream that appears before the consumer."
"That linkage is breaking down, and news organizations are scrambling to re- place it with something else. That may mean selling ads on sites they don't own or control."
Salmon argued that during his career he came across people with fantastic ideas for a website, relying as a business model on banner ads and of course, as a statistical inevitability, some of them will make money. But the ad-adjacency model can't be the business model to rely on. News organizations - he suggested referring to the report - should find ways to monetize the credibility they build within their communities.
One way could be to sell ad space not just on their own site but to use their brand for other ventures. Just to cite some examples: Wired has pop-up stores, New York Magazine has a bridal show, the Atlantic has a big events business which already brings in $6 million a year and which is growing fast.
The relationship between digital journalism and advertisers must be re-thinked, the New York Times summarized.
"That does not mean yielding editorial control to sponsors, but it might mean coming up with alternatives to impression-based pricing, creating higher-value content for the Web by tapping into page view data, and helping to ensure that Web ads have value on their own", the article wrote.
The article also quoted Bill Grueskin, the academic dean for the journalism school and a co-author of the report, who said: "We're not suggesting that journalists get marching orders from advertisers. We are suggesting that journalists get a much better understanding of why so many advertising dollars have left the traditional news media business."
The report ends with these considerations:
"We believe the public needs independent journalists who seek out facts, explain complex issues and present their work in compelling ways. We also believe that while philanthropic or government support can help, it is ultimately up to the commercial market to provide the economic basis for journalism. The industry has realized many of the losses from the digital era. It is time to start reaping some of the benefits."

Source: CJR, Felix Salmon's blog, New York Times

A voice for Under Age writers

“WE can’t drink, drive or vote, but we can write”: so say the 12 young journalists behind new online newspaper The Under Age.
The Under Age, launched last week, is a collaboration between Fairfax Media’s The Age and youth media organisation Express Media. It is written entirely by Victorian high school students.
The young writers gather each fortnight at Media House in Melbourne to brainstorm and workshop story ideas – ranging from Facebook angst to political tensions in Syria – and collaborate with industry professionals.
“We have so many people coming to us and asking about how they can get involved at the Age, and this is just about getting young people engaged with news media,” said Ben Haywood, the manager of youth strategic publications at The Age.
Mr Haywood said almost two dozen Age editorial staff – including Liz Minchin, Michael Lallo, Emma Quayle and Dan Flitton – had put their hands up to work with the young writers. He added that while Under Age writers would receive guidance and advice from Age staff, editorial curatorship remained in their hands.
“We want to empower the editorial team to look at contributions themselves. They own the direction it takes and the stories they choose,” he said.
“The Age have been wonderfully supportive,” said project coordinator Bhakthi Puvanenthiran. “We’ve got kids from all over Melbourne and the state, so that’s been good to get the diversity.”
Ms Puvanenthiran was optimistic about the future of the partnership.
“[I’m] not sure what the long term plan is at this stage, but with such positive feedback, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be repeated in the future.”


Outing: Media should charge for iPad apps

Media organizations are “leaving money on the table” if they are not charging for their iPad apps, says Steve Outing. After a month with an iPad, he writes that he likely would have paid for any of the news apps he uses, as long as they were sold as permanent apps, not individual stand-alone editions as Time magazine originally was. “This approach completely misunderstands the device,” he writes. “First, the single-edition iPad purchase is fleeting; psychologically, I resist buying iPad apps that are read or viewed once and then deleted.”
Assuming the app is a one-time download that can contain multiple issues of a publication, Outing suggests that it’s worth paying for if the experience surpasses that of using the news org’s website.
“Indeed, to not charge for the apps seems, well, crazy. If an iPad reader of any of those news brands doesn’t want to pay a couple bucks for their apps, then all he/she has to do is launch the iPad’s Safari browser and go to their websites, paying nothing.”


iPad news apps lack accessibility and usability

Apple’s iPad and iOS come with several built-in accessibility features that make the iPad relatively easy for disabled people to use. Unfortunately, many news applications were not built to take advantage of these accessibility features, rendering the apps ultimately useless for people who are disabled.
VoiceOver is the crown jewel of the iOS accessibility features (the operating system behind the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch), and it gives the entire operating system and every application access to screen-reading technology.
Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconson-Madison, said in a phone call that iOS is the only mobile operating system to come with a built-in screen reader, and that this technology often costs hundreds of dollars or more on other computing platforms.

Testing out apps for accessibility

For this technology to work, apps must be built with accessibility in mind. I downloaded and tested several news apps with this and other accessibility features turned on and found The Daily, The Economist, The New York Times, Wired and USA Today apps to be unusable, and incapable of reading everything that their applications present with these features turned on.
VoiceOver allows users to tap the screen and a voice will let them know what they have selected. Tap a folder, and a voice reads the name of the folder. Tap an application and the same happens. Tap a button in an application or a text box, and theoretically the same should happen. Once users have found what they want, they double tap to select it. In VoiceOver mode, double tap functions as a single tap normally does.
In my testing, some of the icons and text were selectable, while others were not. I was unable to get any of the news apps to select and read the body of the text for me. The Economist does have audio versions of its articles that can be selected by tapping a button, and they work well. But they don’t follow the normal pattern of accessibility. Nonetheless, The Economist iPad app has built-in text-zooming and audio versions of articles, which is more than a lot of other news apps offer.
Oscar Grut, managing director of digital editions, said The Economist is beginning an accessibility review of its iPad and iPhone applications. As part of its review, it’s bringing in qualified consultants who can help identify accessibility issues for different types of impairment. The end goal is to make the iPad and iPhone applications more accessible to wider audiences., Grut told me.

Need for a back button, bigger text

In the course of my testing with VoiceOver on, I was completely disoriented several times and had to tap the home key to go back to the home screen and start over. And I could see what I was doing the whole time. One of the issues that causes disorientation is the lack of a back button or searchability within some of these apps (Wired’s app is the prime offender of this).
Imagine using a news website. You click a few links. Now you want to get back to where you were before, but there’s no back button. Clicking something and being shot to a different section into the Wired app without the ability to go back can be disorienting for someone with perfect eyesight. Using the VoiceOver technology on apps without a back button or breadcrumb trail when you’re blind? Forget about it.
“The lack of a back button is pretty egregious, as is the lack of search,” Raluca Budiu, user experience specialist at the Nielsen Norman Group, said via email. “Especially since the iPad screen is so much bigger than the screens of mobile phones and there’s plenty of space for incorporating these in the interface.”
There are some users who are visually impaired, but not so much that they need everything read to them. For these users, the ability to enlarge text sizes is critical. Some applications, such as Wired’s, do not allow text to be enlarged at all, while others, such as The New York Times’, USA Today’s and The Economist’s, offer a variety of text sizes.
“That is just plain not a good idea,” Vanderheiden said about not allowing text to be enlarged. “There is a huge portion of your readership that is going to have issues with that small text.”
Budiu said one issue that many applications have is that even when they allow the article body text to be enlarged, they don’t enlarge the headline, captions or navigational pages. The New York Times and Economist apps suffer from this issue, while the USA Today app enlarges all text on a page. None of the applications, however, allowed the navigational pages to be enlarged.
All of these applications also work with iOS’s built-in zooming feature, which magnifies everything on screen up to five times. After a certain point, though, the text starts to look pixelated.
iOS also has pinch to zoom, which is a feature built not just for accessibility; it does allow users to use two fingers to zoom in on text, photos and interface items. While this works beautifully on, it doesn’t work at all in The Times’ iPad app and worked in The Economist app for article text only.
One of the biggest accessibility issues with The Daily — something that able-bodied people would struggle with, too — is the need to rotate the orientation of The Daily to discover new features and content. It’s not intuitive, and it requires that a user hold the iPad in order for it to work properly. (I often rest the iPad on my lap while reading). People aren’t accustomed to rotating their computer screens or newspapers to discover new features.
“Often companies think that their app needs to have some cool, unique design element in order to be successful and are ready to sacrifice usability or accessibility for that,” Budiu said. “Unfortunately, fun depletes — that fancy carousel or that unique widget is going be less fun the second time the app is used, and even annoying by the fifth time.”
Grut said the carousel used in The Economist iPhone app has proved to be an accessibility issue, and it’s being rethought.
“It doesn’t work for the visually impaired,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure it works for everyone.”

Developing best practices to make apps more accessible

Vanderheiden said content creators may be intentionally creating applications with inaccessible text because of copyright infringement fears. Some content creators hope that by making it harder to select and access text they’ll be able to cut down on piracy. But will making a product harder to use really make a company more money?
“I really think they’re doing a lot of things out of fear, and if they would just slip over to another model they could thrive,” Vanderheiden said. “I mean iTunes doesn’t copy protect its songs anymore, but it’s just so damn convenient to just buy them.”
Budiu, however, says he doesn’t think these accessibility and usability issues were a conscious oversight. Rather, he believes that many companies and developers are not aware of best practices for usability. Vanderheiden thinks this is part of the issue, too, and said print-driven companies and developers may not think about making products for the disabled.
The good news for users is that all of these organizations, with the exception of the iPad-only The Daily, have websites that work great with the iPad’s accessible, built-in browser Safari. Budiu said her ideal news app would be “an app that is not about the app but about the news.”
An app all about the news, she said, would enable as many people as possible to use it and enjoy it.


Hold the front page - it's time US papers had a redesign

The Wall Street Journal looks fresh and modern, and circulation is rising. For many other American newspapers, neither of those things is true

Here are three seemingly unrelated things you notice this only-in-America week. One is the rise and rise of the Wall Street Journal, up 1.2% (to 2,117,796 average copies a day) on the latest US ABC figures. Another is the impressive run of newspaper front pages posted outside the plush new Newseum in Washington DC, proclaiming Osama's death. And the third is yet another brooding prophecy of the demise of printed newspapers (this time from Ken Doctor, one of the leading US media analysts).
How long have they got? Maybe five years, maybe 15, says Ken. "Today's daily newspaper companies have little chance of surviving in anything resembling tomorrow's form very far into the future… You can't find anyone who says he has a proven, sustainable business model for moving forward." Oh woe!, as per usual, oh gloom round the globe! But hang on a moment…
You don't need to love Rupert Murdoch to admire what he's done with the WSJ. Sir Harold Evans, the white knight of the Sunday Times, has joined that fan club. The Journal (circulation revenue growing 17 straight quarters in a row, digital subscriptions up as well, by nearly 22% in a year to over half a million) has boosted its weekend edition with two new sections, added a controversial Greater New York news section, and produced the WSJ magazine more often. In short, it hasn't stood still.
The layout is crisp and notably shorter on "turns" of stories from page to page. On royal wedding morning plus one, it ran a well-focused picture across three-quarters of the front. It projects and bounces with confidence. It feels like a paper on the move.
Now examine those other front pages outside the Newseum. They're pleased that public enemy number one is dead, of course. Cue exultant headlines. But stand back on the pavement, take in the panorama, and something else registers. They all – from Lexington to Des Moines to Pueblo – look much the same. They're ex-broadsheets in format with columns squeezed to save newsprint (from crunch to crunch). They're mean, constricted, somehow shrivelling away. It's as though they'd read Ken Doctor's latest obituary and taken a turn for the worse.
That doesn't apply to the few remaining giants of the industry, to be sure. The New York Times and Washington Post may have shrunk a little, but they still seem papers in traditional mode – perhaps too traditional. Do you want a print paper, in this digital world, to turn every single one of its front-page tales to different pages inside? The Times seems to think you do. And not just that: it turns arts and business stories from their front pages inside their respective sections as well. There's nothing to read at one go. The writer, never trimmed to fit, comes first; the reader-cum-consumer doesn't seem to count. The world of Simon Kelner's i is far, far away.
Is the Washington Post also pretty much the design product you remember over the decades since Watergate – locked in a time warp, making fuzzy use of colour, prone to let stories run and run, turn and turn? Alas, yes: it, too, seems to have reacted to a world of pell-mell transition by staying much where it was. Even USA Today, which seemed to offer something fresh in the 1980s, has barely tweaked a concept since.
Newspaper websites are different. They change all the time, in look, scope and energy. $13m of NYT spending geared up its paywall. But you can't read newsstand papers in America for very long without feeling that the force is no longer with them – not because they can't still make tracks, but because faith, hope and creative endeavour have been diverted elsewhere. Suicide through atrophy.
So those three, supposedly unrelated, things are linked after all. Can the Wall Street Journal, flush with investment and edited by an Aussie Brit fresh from London's Times, advance on both print and digital fronts? It seems so. No matter that News Corp quarterly profits have taken a dive. Where there's Murdoch will, there appears to be a way. When you clear out the old obsession with a newspaper as some kind of ancestral template, you can gain, not lose, circulation.
Daily Mail executives, fresh from their 65-million-a-month unique browser figures in the latest ABCe audits, say quietly that one reason for their startling online rise in the US is simply that they do journalism sharper and better. Well, you don't need to get too mired in a controversy like that. But the US showbusiness site at Mail Online certainly knocks aggregated spots off its American competitors, at least for the moment. And the stories themselves are written hard and fast for maximum screen consumption.
So there's one question you won't find answered inside the splendour of the Newseum, the self-reverential Gannett temple of print down the ages. Are we talking tides of history here amid portents of inevitable doom? Or have too many plump, worried rabbits got caught in the headlights somewhere down Pennsylvania Avenue?


BBDO/Proximity Once Again Propels Berita Harian’s Image

The New Straits Times Press Group has launched a new brand campaign for Berita Harian developed by BBDO/Proximity, seeing a revamp of Berita Harian with enhanced design, the renaming of lifestyle section Berita Dua to Rona, refreshed editorial content and a new campaign line “BH mewarnai hari anda”.
The campaign is expected to augment Berita Harian’s image and increase readership amongst all Malaysians who are conversant in Bahasa Malaysia. The new look will project Berita Harian’s renewed image as the Malaysian newspaper that enriches knowledge and stimulating mind, is friendly, inclusive and open-minded, reliable and firm in opinion.
In 2010, the Nielsen Media Index reported a readership of 1.2 million for Berita Harian. The newspaper appeals to households between the ages of 25 and 34 years with and average monthly income of above RM5,000.
“Berita Harian has always delivered breaking news and rigorous reporting to its readers. With this campaign we are looking to engage a wider audience of Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Malaysians who not only value insightful journalism and firm, open-minded opinions, but also constantly looking for information to enrich their knowledge via an inclusive news source,” said the New Straits Times Press Group’s Marketing Director, Zuraida Mohamad.
BBDO/Proximity Malaysia’s Executive Creative Director Richmond Walker added, “We’re very excited to be working with NSTP again on their other Malay title. With much greater purchasing power, the Malaysian consumer has become far more discerning.”
The Berita Harian campaign comes hot on the heels of Harian Metro’s “Biar Betul” campaign launched in March that was crafted by BBDO/Proximity. “Biar Betul” reiterated Harian Metro’s No. 1 position as the most widely circulated and read Malay language daily in Malaysia with a formidable presence in print, television, outdoor, digital and social media. Apart from the print, outdoor and broadcast ads, the campaign generated a total media value of RM3.8 million.


Dare to be different

When a big story breaks, editors face the challenge of trying to avoid telling readers what they already know. MALCOLM COLLESS explores the options:

THE recent devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan highlighted a critical challenge for newspaper editors: how to strike a balance between saturation coverage and the need to be different.
It’s a hard call in the immediate aftermath of something as enormous as this but the issue becomes more pertinent in ensuing days particularly with print competing against continuous electronic media updates, specifically on television.
It is not surprising that reader and viewer attention is captivated by the impact of such major calamities.
But the increasingly common decision by TV network editors to abandon normal programming for continuous coverage – sometimes over several days – may well be turning people off, particularly when much of the footage, including interviews, is being carouselled.
Newspaper response seems to display an editorial judgment that more is better (and possibly safer). Hence, the papers compete for attention with bigger and bigger sections covering these issues.
Of course, this approach is not unique to calamities. Take for example the annual coverage of the national budgets. The dailies strive to out-do each other by boasting more details, more stories, more comments and opinions and of course more pages than their competitors.
Is this what the reader really wants, or is it a run down on the key issues in the Budget and their impact on their day-to-day existence?
Politics, they say, is more about perception than reality.
And there seems to be a growing community perception that news has become a casualty in the rising tide of comment and opinion in our media outlets.
While this is a criticism of newspapers, it is not confined to print and can be seen in the way “news” is delivered on the television networks, including the ABC.
Long gone are the days when a by-line was a prized reward for a story – often preserved for scoops or major interpretive pieces.
Today, everyone gets a by-line no matter what the size or importance of the story and more often than not it is accompanied by a colour pic of the author.
And all of this is supported by a seemingly endless parade of contributing experts delivering their own, highly profiled, views on major events.
Meanwhile, the traditional definition of news is becoming even more blurred as we find television breakfast show presenters, who are not even journalists, flying in to deliver their programs from catastrophes including mining disasters, and flood and earthquake ravaged cities.
The eternal problem for print is that it is finite.
Once a newspaper is published, that is it.
The concept of a 24-hour newspaper died at birth assisted initially by the growth of the internet that extended from PCs to laptops to phones.
To survive, print has to be part of this. So far the electronic media has continued to draw heavily on the traditional print editorial pool to bolster its coverage of issues.
In other words you are more likely to hear or see a newspaper journalist on TV or radio than to see an electronic media journalist interviewed in a newspaper.
But does this reflect readership and circulation trends, or is it more a matter of convention?
Whatever the case, the print media will continue to come under growing pressure from alternative sources of information and from the increasing challenge, particularly from the younger market, to the relevance of traditional content.
It may well come to pass that what is going to rapidly confront newspapers is not just the challenge to dare to be different, but how long can they afford not to be different and from each other.

Malcolm Colless is a former senior executive at News Ltd and writes a column for The Australian’s media section.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Daily Is Interesting, But Is It the Future of Newspapers?

THERE’S been a lot of pre-launch interest in Rupert Murdoch’s new iPad “newspaper” The Daily. This is partly because the News Corp. founder is known for making ambitious bets on new technology — even if they don’t always work out, as he found with MySpace — and also because Apple was a key partner, and used the News app to launch its new subscription model for content (it costs 99 cents a week or $39 for a year).
So does The Daily live up to its billing? Is it the future of newspapers? Not really. It does some interesting things, but it also does some very confusing things, particularly around sharing content. And much of it, apart from some bells and whistles, consists of fairly humdrum day-old stories that you might read in, well…a regular old printed newspaper.
The first clue to what you get with The Daily, as more than one person has noted, is in the name itself. It is published more or less just like a regular newspaper, in the sense that the bulk of the content is produced and then published to the app once a day. Although News Corp. made a point of noting at its launch event that the app will be updated throughout the day as news breaks, there was no sign of that happening while I used it for most of the day on Wednesday, and that was while riots were still breaking out in Cairo.
Even though Twitter content appeared in a box in one of the stories (a profile of Rihanna) and had live links, the actual tweets themselves were almost 12 hours old — even after the app updated itself and said it was downloading a new version of the paper.

It’s like a newspaper…but on the iPad!
The result is that you get something that feels very much like a newspaper, with stories about things that happened yesterday. And while you can share stories via Facebook and Twitter, none of the pieces contain any links to anything on the web, making the app feel very much like similar apps from print publications like the New York Times, Esquire and Wired — disconnected from the Internet in a lot of ways. There are live links in Twitter streams in stories (particularly the customizable sports section, which lets you follow teams), and there is a small section of links called “What We’re Reading,” but other than that there isn’t a whole lot of linking going on at all.
There’s also no way to contact the writers or interact with them in any way, as Salon founder Scott Rosenberg noted, apart from posting a comment (which you can also do via audio, an unusual choice).
The general web user can’t get to any articles on The Daily’s website. But when you share a link to a story in the Daily via Facebook or Twitter, people can click through and read it on the site — a “social media passthrough” that the New York Times is also reportedly building into its upcoming web paywall. But with The Daily, when you click through to read the piece, you get what amounts to a screenshot of the app page — an image, rather than text. With some stories, you also get a large warning, complete with a big exclamation mark, that says the story is “missing content available only in The Daily iPad app.”
All of that aside, the biggest issue with The Daily is that even when you share a story, there is little that might encourage anyone to cough up the money to subscribe (a Columbia Journalism Review editor called it “a general-interest publication that is not generally interesting” and added that “great design will not trump lackluster content”). In the inaugural version, there were a couple of features that were worth reading, but they didn’t add much to similar stories that have appeared elsewhere for free. And a surprising amount of what appeared in the app — once you got past all the videos, most of which were devoted to advertising, and the interactive Sudoku and crossword puzzles — was run-of-the-mill news briefs that you might see in any newspaper such as USA Today.

If the content is ho-hum, what are users paying for?
Much of the pre-launch promotion of The Daily suggested that it was going to focus on the content in a way that many newspapers don’t, and that the $30 million or so Rupert Murdoch was spending on the project indicated there would be a higher level of quality. But while the app is well designed and the articles and photos are nice to look at, there isn’t a whole lot on the content side that makes it any better than newspapers that can already be read for free — and whose links can be shared and read without the bizarre restrictions that The Daily has invented to try and convince people to pay for it.
David Weidner of WSJ’s MarketWatch said that “the pricing is right,” and that $40 a year made more sense than $240 a year for the New York Times, and it’s true that the low price may get some to sign up — but the bigger question is, how many?


Is News Corp.'s iPad Daily a Killer App?

News Corp. (NWS) has launched its iPad newspaper dubbed the Daily and the effort will be closely watched. The Daily is either the rebirth of the newspaper or another overfunded launch like Conde Nast Portfolio.

Screenshots: The Daily launch

Of course, the Daily could turn out to be something in between. The big point here is that the fate of the Daily will be determined in months and years from now. In fact, the subscriptions will tell the tale over time. One day of hype doesn’t make a new paradigm for traditional media.
Add it up and we have no idea whether the Daily is the moment for traditional media or just another effort fumbling toward mobile app ecstasy.
As I noted in my Kindle Single, 2011 is the year of media subscriptions. The rub is we don’t know whether consumers will go along for the ride. It’s quite possible that 2011 will merely be the year of trying to do media subscriptions. Simply put, the New York Times (NYT) pay wall and the Daily will be closely watched efforts.
Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan, who has been watching this space for a long time, outlined the ledger for News Corp.’s Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s pet project. Here’s the breakdown.

* News Corp. has the resources to differentiate the Daily. If News Corp. can meld newspaper, cable, studio and Internet assets the Daily could sing. Indeed, the presentation outlining the Daily was heavy on the video.
* Apple is a great ally. Apple’s support for subscriptions in iTunes is quite the enabler.
* News Corp. is playing offense, which is a good thing.
* Subscribing to a daily publication makes more sense on the iPad and 99 cents a week—$39.99 for a year—won’t break the bank.

* It’s going to take time for consumers to accept an iPad newspaper. Sure, early adopters will check it out. Then what?
* Early hype doesn’t turn into market share, revenue or cash flow instantly.
* Apple is controlling. Rest assured that News Corp. and Apple will clash down the road over apps and subscriptions. That fact could chill the market for other iPad publishers.
* Ads will matter. Subscriptions alone won’t support the Daily alone, but will carry the day initially. What will the ad picture look like and how will the details be handled with News Corp. and Apple?