Category Archives: Media trends

Learning multimedia; monetizing journalism

I just spent a mind-expanding week at the Knight Center for Digital Media in Berkeley and was exposed to five programs — Photoshop, FinalCut Pro, GarageBand, Soundslides and Flash — along with 19 other journalists. I am not quick on the uptake. I grasped only a small amount of what was thrown at me by a patient training crew. But I did produce a Soundslide story and observed or assisted in a slew of other tasks. I got over my fear of video editing and realized that basic Flash was within my grasp. I have the confidence to get  the refreshers and advanced training that I would need to become a proficient multimedia journalist. I understand how to let the story choose its media, and have at least some sense of how to get the story done.

It was the longest six long days of training I’ve had in a good long while. And great fund. Only one point I heard caused me to disagree.  I think journalists have to invent (ethical) new ways to make money. A remark to the contrary at the end of the session is what prompted me to disagree. Professional journalists used to look down money-making. Someone else did that; ad sales or classifieds or circulation. But the old systems are eroding. If journalists don’t invent ways to get paid for their services they are doomed to extinction. Or so it seems to me.

Will content become a serf?

People used to say that content was king. Amid the recent upheaval in mass media, Time Magazine recently demoted content to a pauper. But an article in the current issue of Wired makes me think Time set the bar too high. Content — or at least content creators — may be headed for serfdom.

The story is about Demand Media, a privately-held Web company that will earn $200 million in revenues this year producing thousands upon thousands of  content bits using a combination of algorithms and freelancers.

The algorithms sift through search terms to anticipate what people might want to know; determine whether there is a glut or surfeit of content in that regard; then estimates the likely revenue-potential of that content through pay per click advertising.

Human freelance editors turn these machine-generated leads into topics that are posted on a work board (Wired author Daniel Roth says, “It’s the online equivalent of day laborers waiting in front of Home Depot.”) Freelancers claim the topics. Short how-to articles may be worth $15. Brief videos $20.

As the article says, Demand Media has discovered that “online content is not worth very much.”

Surely that bodes ill for content creators.

Tough love for newspapers

Working at the center of the newspaper industry meltdown has been humbling. I can’t recall how many goodbye cakes I’ve tasted in the last few years. I’ve quite lost my appetite for them.

But I agree with Jack Shafer of Slate who thoroughly debunks the notion of legislation to benefit newspapers. In his piece, “Saving Newspapers from their Saviors,” Shafer writes:

Propping up troubled papers has a cost. It weakens the enterprises that are rising from below to compete with them to deliver advertising and, yes, deliver news.

If market forces doom incumbent media that doesn’t mean using news to build a community can’t be a money-making venture. It just means new people with fresh ideas will have to figure out how to do it. Meanwhile, as one of the incumbents who hasn’t been moved out or moved on, I have to work harder and think differently, because this is an interesting time to be in media.

Newspaper ad revenues slide to ’60s levels

Ryan Chittum of Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at newspaper advertising in 2009 which is expected to collapse to $31.6 billion, or just below 1993 levels. When he adjusts for inflation the situation gets far worse:

You have to go back to 1965 to find a year with revenue lower in 2009 dollars than what this year is projected to be. That year, the industry took in $4.42 billion, which works out to $30.22 billion in current dollars. The industry can only hope this year hits 1966 levels, which work out to $32.4 billion in real dollars.

I wondered how the revenue picture aligned with newsroom staffing. I wasn’t able to find a comparable time series but I did scan a recent Congressional Research Service report on the state of the newspaper  industry which said:

Daily papers cut their newsrooms by 11% in 2008, the biggest one-year drop since 1978. Daily newsroom staffing is off 17% from the recent, 2001 peak of 56,400.28 According to Erica Smith, a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, nearly 10,000 journalists were laid-off or took buyouts in the first five months of 2009 alone.29

The race to the bottom is over and Rush Limbaugh has won

In 1984, when Rush Limbaugh was finding his voice on radio station KFBK in Sacramento, California, I had several in-laws who were initially charmed by his bombast, though they ceased to be fans after he moved to New York in 1988.

Since then Limbaugh has arguably become the nation’s demagogue in chief. A July 6 cover story in the New York Times Magazine reveals that his contract with Premier Radio Networks earns him about $38 million a year. Limbaugh says:

First and foremost I’m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates.

Writer Zev Chafets says Limbaugh has gone deaf and wears a cochlear implant so he can hear callers. Not that he’s there to listen. That’s the audience’s job, as Chafets writes:

Limbaugh’s program that day was, as usual, a virtuoso performance. He took a few calls, but mostly he delivered a series of monologues on political and cultural topics. Limbaugh works extemporaneously. He has no writers or script, just notes and a producer on the line from New York with occasional bits of information. That day, and every day, he produced 10,000 words of fluent, often clever political talk.

Or what passes for political talk in America, I suppose. The wonder is that a man who, as we learn has a private jet and is considering the purchase of an NFL franchise, has apparently dialed in to a wide swath of the American psyche. The best line in the piece was an observation by his friend, Joel Surnow, that a movie of Limbaugh’s life would be “Citizen Kane” meets Howard Stern.


Feast, famine, cannibalism in newspapers

What’s up with the newspaper industry? Surprisingly, readership is up in developing nations where globalization is raising incomes, according to the World Association of Newspapers which recently unveiled its exhaustive summary of the print news industry in 2007. A WAN press release offers detailed results by region and country. The other big theme I noticed is the rise of the free dailies which are proliferating faster in mass-transit dense Europe than in the suburbanized USA.

U.S. press leaders are part of WAN. The following quote from Dean Singleton, chief executive of the MediaNews Group, caught my eye. Singleton owns a string of papers in my San Francisco Bay Area, including the Hayward Daily Review, to which I subscribe. According to WAN Singleton says:

Why should we cannibalize our newspaper, why not simply adjust and wait and see? Personally I prefer to have a cannibal in my family rather than to have one as my enemy.

I assume that Singleton made those remarks in the context of explaining why newspapers should be moving their businesses to the web. But seeing as how MediaNews employees will soon vote on whether or not to join the Newspaper Guild, let me emphasize that Singleton could not have meant cannibalism literally. California law would clearly forbid such behavior though I believe the federal protections may have been amended after 9/11.

Meanwhile there must be consternation in the Los Angeles Times newsroom as the Tribune Company enforces a chain-wide edict that there be a 50-50 split between pages devoted to advertising and news. According to MediaPost:

If the 50-50 policy were already in force, this would have necessitated a 13% reduction in editorial volume, resulting in a total size reduction of 26%. Plotting the trend out, presuming that advertising inches decrease at the same pace, the newspapers would be less than one-quarter of their current size within five years.

But while newspapers, the foundation of mass media, suffer readership and advertising declines, it appears that readership is growing for alternative papers that are presumably weekly in periodicity. When the Media Audit looked at readership in 117 alt papers in 88 media markets, it found a three percent increase in print readership and a seven point increase in web unique visits. The print gains sound good in comparison to daily newspaper losses but the online viewer ship seems anemic.

What does it all mean? Search me, but the prevailing wisdom is summarized in an IDC forecast to the effect that:

Internet advertising revenue will double from $25.5 billion in 2007 to $51.1 billion in 2012. During the forecast period, Internet advertising will grow about eight times as fast as advertising at large.

So maybe Dean Singleton is right. Newspapers shouldn’t say “cannibalism” as if it’s a bad thing.

E-paper lets you zoom in on the staple

I like to take long hops on the beach and . . .

I like to take long hops on the beach and . . .

Paid Content points to a USA Today article about Zinio, a company that publishes web editions of magazine content. The article says:

“digital editions let readers click on links embedded in articles and ads to peruse video, audio and related stories.”

Subscribers pay for this richer experience. Why? Playboy is among the 750 magazines in Zinio’s stable.  USA Today reporter Jon Swartz says since Zinio launched e-Playboy in 2005:

“it has sold some 1.7 million digital issues. They cost $19.97 for a dozen issues, and $4.99 for a single issue. (Playboy‘s average annual magazine circulation is 2.6 million.) Main selling points of the digital magazine version include the ability to zoom in and out on photos, view video and photo outtakes and listen to music clips.”

The article notes that “paid circulation of consumer magazines fell 1.7%, to $277 million” in the second half of 2007, continuing a seven year slide since paid circulation peaked in 2000. We are told that “70% of newsstand copies go unsold” making e-displays a green technology — as in saving trees and money. “Playboy, for example, has saved $1.2 million from lower manufacturing, distribution, paper and postal costs.”