The New York Times’ David Carr reflects on what he perceives as the “vanishing divide” between mainstream and digital media, following the move of media writer Howard Kurtz from the Washington Post to The Daily Beast.
Carr addresses the evolution of web journalism, which he says is not only changing the way news is collected and presented but also the way it is valued by audiences. The brand, he says, is no longer the priority.
On a journalistic level, the new playing field is more even. Many people see the news in aggregated form on the web, and when they notice a link that interests them, they click on it with nary a thought about the news organization behind it. Information stands or falls on its magnetism, with brand pedigree becoming secondary.
More and more, the dichotomy between mainstream media and digital media is a false one. Formerly clear bright lines are being erased all over the place. Open up Gawker, CNN, NPR and The Wall Street Journal on an iPad and tell me without looking at the name which is a blog, a television brand, a radio network, a newspaper. They all have text, links, video and pictures. The new frame around content is changing how people see and interact with the picture in the middle.
The article suggests that declines within the newspaper industry could be improved if intellectual property rights were to undergo “rethinking”.
Using aggregators like Google and others, I can access essentially in real time the lead paragraphs of almost any story from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or indeed any other major news service. Not surprisingly, traditional print media publications are dying, and not surprisingly their owners’ online dotcom alternatives are generating far too little revenue to pick up the slack; why pay for any content when the essence of everything is available immediately, and free, elsewhere.
The writers Eric Clemons and Nehal Madhani add that one solution could be to apply a waiting time on articles before they can be reposted online by external aggregators, unless it is only in commentary on the work.
A first suggestion would be to provide newspaper and other journalistic content special protection, so that no part of any story from any daily periodical could be reposted in an online aggregator, or used online for any use other than commentary on the article, for 24 hours; similarly, no part of any story from any weekly publication could be reposted in an online aggregator or for any use purpose other than commentary, for one week.
Revenue from those publications has been in decline for many years — well before Google and the internet existed. The biggest problem many of the bigger publications faced was taking on ridiculous debt loads. On top of that, most of them failed to provide value to their community, as competitors stepped in to serve those communities. That’s not about aggregators.
Debate raged at the Frontline Club last night as Google and news publishers came head-to-head for a panel discussion on the search engine and its impact on the industry.
The very title of the event “Google: Friend or foe of newspaper publishers”, part of the club’s monthly On the Media discussion series in association with the BBC College of Journalism, set the topic of early debate, as Peter Barron, former Newsnight editor and now head of PR for Google UK, sought to banish the idea of the company as an ‘enemy’. “Google is unequivocally a friend of the newspaper publishers. Our aim is to work with them,” he said.
Challenged about the ethics of “taking stories for nothing” through the Google News platform, he added that the service followed the free structure of online news.
We absolutely we do not steal content. News organisations put their content on the web for free everyday by their own free will and Google helps people find that content. We send clicks to the pages of news websites. We send a billion clicks a month to news websites globally. Once there, those clicks are a business opportunity for the businesses involved.
A business which he claims generates revenues of £5 billion worldwide. But the value of a browser who clicks through from Google is minimal, Matt Kelly, digital content director for Mirror Group Newspapers argued. In fact, he said, he’d rather not have them at all.
We need to worry a bit less about search engines and worry a bit more about our readers. We weren’t that impressed with the value of audience we got via search engines. They came across it via Google and buzzed off again, that’s Google’s audience. It’s not our audience. We can’t successfully leverage a disconnected audience.
He added that many news organisations moving online were “blinded” by the reach the internet and sites like Google enabled them to have.
I think they confused reach with audience, they confused numbers with engagement. It was a very alluring thing (…) So we pumped the market full of inventory and there was too much inventory for advertisers to supply. There’s not enough advertising in the world to fill all of the content that newspapers put out online. So what happens is the rate collapses. So suddenly this reach came back and bit the newspaper industry on the arse. So in all this great reach, the rate of revenue coming back from it is in terminal decline. What we would sell 4 or 5 years ago for £8 cpm now we’ll sell it for 80p cpm. This is not a sustainable business model. This is a product of the erosion of engagement that Google brought to news content.
Kelly later added that he would rather get one click-through from Twitter than 100 from Google, where someone has said “check this out” and recommended it. “I’m not interested in people who stumble and go, would rather not have them at all,” he said.
Earlier in his introduction, fellow panel member Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at the London Business School, had agreed that Google was “a good thing for consumers (…) Good thing for advertisers. Bad thing for media companies.”
He said the revenue model for Google focused on making money from advertising and not re-investing much of it into content. Without Google, he added, the world would be a better place for news organisations.
Who’s going to pay for the content? Google isn’t going to and why should they? Google helps people find content, however if you imagine a world in which Google didn’t exist and nothing else like it, that world would be better for news organisations (…) The amount of revenue per reader generated online is much less than what can be generated by a print reader.
Peter Barron responded to say that the problems for news organisations have been caused by the internet as a whole and that too often people “transpose” the internet and Google.
The internet changed the news pattern forever. Thats what has caused huge problems for the news industry. People often transpose the internet and Google. The newspaper industry has faced a huge disruption because of the internet and woke up to it a little bit late.
Wired and Press Gazette MediaMoney columnist Peter Kirwan, who was also on the panel, added that many online news publishers simply have their priorities “skewed”. If organisations could cut out the “astronomical” costs of printing, they could begin to think about becoming digital only, he added.
The rhetoric that surrounds the idea of the news media exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, in other words (…) the available CPMs (cost per thousand) available on the internet are so much lower than in print – well yes they are – but the cost of putting out newspapers is also astronomically high (…) Strip that out and those digital diamonds don’t look so small (…) News organisations who are currently print dominated could start to think about becoming digital only and I think the rhetoric is now getting slightly tired of exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, we need to move on from that a little bit because I think the possibility of a digital only existence is starting to open up.
Looking forward, audience members asked about the future of paywalls and whether news publishers would ever consider building a shared wall. This prompted another panel member, paidContent’s Robert Andrews to ask Barron if Google could say anything on rumours the company was developing a ‘Newspass’ micro-payments system, met with a “no comment” from Barron.
Kelly added that it was up to newspapers to map their own future, but for the Mirror Group, it was about ensuring an engaged audience, rather than being obsessed with traffic from “transient visitors”, which he called this “a sickness that has pervaded the industry”.
Lots of people used our content but didn’t care about it. We’re trying to get to position B, its free and they care about it but then one day we might get to position C which is that they care about it so much they might be willing to pay for it. I wish [the Times] had gone to position B first and see if they could have engaged the audience and care a bit less about SEO.
Journalism.co.uk’s podcast from the event can be found here. See video coverage of the event below:
In it, journalism professor Clay Shirky says this:
“If I was going to set up a news business tomorrow, it would be a business designed to create not one bit of content.”
Problem with the internet these days is that it’s too big. There’s too much stuff, thanks to all those pesky bloggers, flickr users, tweeters and facebookers. How do we find what we want among all the noise?
Cue a potentially profitable window for the Next Generation Journalist – aggregating, filtering, sorting, editing content for a particular group of people within a particular niche.
Some of the most popular news websites on the net do this very well already: sites like Mashable and TechCrunch (and of course Journalism.co.uk!) aggregate hundreds of articles every week, as well as adding their own, and make money in the process.
These three sites have something else in common, they all serve very particular niches, niches with new content flooding the internet everyday. There is a demand among the people within each niche for a collection of the best, the newest and the most interesting.
So here’s the business idea: you identify a profitable niche, with a well defined target audience, where the airwaves are constantly being filled with news, comment and analysis. You set up a site to aggregate this content, a process you can do yourself at first and eventually automate with software like Yahoo Pipes. You build a mailing list of subscribers, to whom you send a daily or weekly newsletter summing up the big stories, perhaps adding some editorial content too. Of course, your newsletter is sponsored, bringing in more cash.
From there, events, products, and a whole host of other tricks, all covered in Next Generation Journalist.
Aggregating the news….
solves a big problem within a defined target market – organising relevant information
if done well, can turn your website into the go-to place for news on a particular subject or issue
can eventually become a mostly automated service, freeing up time to pursue other projects, while still generating revenue
Fwix is now expanding its aggregation to cover hyperlocal sources of news, as TechCrunch explains:
[C]ontent on Fwix will display relationships between both topics and nearby location. For example, after reading a story about a robbery that took place in the Mission district of San Francisco, you’ll be able to find any other crime and or stories about the Mission neighborhood.
According to the News Users report, when news consumers need instant news, 57 per cent will go to digital sources. In this situation they are also more likely to go to an aggregator (31 per cent) than a newspaper site (8 per cent) the survey suggested.
When it comes to news sites vs aggregators, the research suggested that local newspapers still had the upper hand on local topics, such as family events, but says in its release that there are “cracks in the house”.
Last week Struan Bartlett, managing director of NewsNow, made his feelings on NI’s decision clear:
NewsNow and other aggregation businesses will ride the wave, but I am concerned that key freedoms people enjoy, to access publicly available information on the internet using an independent search engine of their choice, are being eroded
But in a statement given to Journalism.co.uk, News International’s reasons for blocking the aggregator hinge on the use of links to its websites within NewsNow’s paid-for service:
NewsNow has been using Times Online content as part of its paid-for, commercial as well as free services. They have continued to do so despite our direct requests for them to stop. As a result, we have taken the decision to disallow their indexing of our content. News International makes a significant investment in journalism and we believe that it is entirely appropriate for us to ask that our rights are respected. NewsNow has acknowledged that they require our permission to use our content and, in the absence of our permission, has ceased to do so.
“Meltwater’s position is that end users do not need a licence to simply receive links and read articles on the NLA’s members’ websites, and we welcome the NLA’s reasonable and proportionate response to the issue now being before the Copyright Tribunal,” said Jørn Lyseggen, CEO Meltwater Group, in a statement to Journalism.co.uk.
If the tribunal finds in favour of the NLA, the agency will backdate payments to 1 January 2010. The date for the tribunal has not yet, but an NLA spokesman said the agency hoped it would be completed by the end of the year.
“We are confident that the copyright tribunal will recognise our web licensing scheme is measured and reasonable. But we do not want any licensed users of newspaper web monitoring to be disadvantaged by Meltwater’s action. Clients of all
monitoring agencies should be on a level playing field. We have therefore decided not to invoice clients for their web licence until the copyright tribunal process is complete,” says David Pugh, managing director of the NLA, in a release.
Commenting on the NLA’s decision to suspend invoicing, Struan Bartlett, managing director of NewsNow, said: “‘Measured and reasonable’ are the last two words I would choose to describe the NLA web licensing scheme. One might read it that this move by the NLA indicates they think there is a risk that they will lose the case, and that in that event they would not want to be burdened with having to repay fees wrongly claimed from businesses.”
“Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, as well as other new economy businesses that act as portals and link aggregators, occupy a key role in identifying links that are of interest to be read and passed on. They are a key part of the world wide web’s system of circulating information,” says a press release from the campaign.
The campaign also attacks representatives from print media groups that demand organisations obtain permission to use links to their newspapers’ websites.
But this isn’t what the NLA is asking for. It only wants to regulate areas where the newspaper links are being used for commercial gain and is a supporter NewsNow’s non-commercial services, for example its free feeds to consumers, it says.
Online media monitoring firm Meltwater, which is also signed up to the campaign but has not agreed to the NLA’s new system, is taking the NLA to a UK copyright tribunal arguing that the new system is equivalent to a stealth tax and not supported by English law.
“We use sophisticated search algorithms to help our clients find content they otherwise would have difficulties locating. The NLA’s attempt to license our clients is essentially a tax on receiving these internet links. This fee is not only unjust and unreasonable, it is contrary to the very spirit of the internet,” argues Jorn Lyseggen, CEO of Meltwater Group, in a statement.