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Newsonomics: BuzzFeed and The New York Times play Facebook’s ubiquity game
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Sept. 6, 2013, 1:28 p.m.

New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson was back in his native U.K. today to give an address at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which is celebrating an anniversary of its fellowship program. Here’s the full text (pdf) of his prepared remarks. Here are a few of the items I thought were most worth highlighting:

Classified evaporation

One statistic that is still startling even if, by now, it’s hardly surprising: In 2000, The New York Times generated $204 million in help-wanted advertising. In 2012? $13 million, a decline of 94 percent.

Nothing Compares 2 Times

Thompson shares a bit more about the Times’ project-in-progress Need 2 Know. (I sincerely hope that that his prepared remarks are mistaken and it’s actually “Need To Know” — or else he’s been listening to a lot of Prince slow jams.)

One of the new ideas is a project with the working title of Need 2 Know. Though it will be available on all digital platforms, we’re developing it for mobile, and particularly smart-phone first, and it’s intended to offer users the perfect briefing not just on the news that’s already happened but on the events and stories up ahead that our editors have already got their eye on, and to it with its own voice and its own flavour. If you’ve caught the ‘New York Today’ feature in the Metro section of our website, you’ll have an idea of what that flavour could be.

I do like the idea of more and better summarization products — but I wonder how easy they’ll be to monetize. (A roundup of news links, service-y news-you-can-use, and some editorial flavor can be great — but it’s also not that hard to duplicate.)

Passing the controls overseas

Control of NYTimes.com and related digital products will no longer rest solely in midtown Manhattan:

Our newsrooms around the world are already working far more closely together than before and editorial control of the global edition of the Web site will be handed over, for the first time, to Jill and Andy’s teams in London, Paris and Hong Kong.

Aiming high with video

Some interesting details on video strategy: Thompson doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of the two-journalists-talking-about-a-story model for newspaper video:

Newsroom or studio-based video talk — which The Times has experimented with over the years and which both the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post are spending heavily on at the moment — can work well when there’s a big and real-time event to talk about. I thought that The Times’s video coverage of last autumn’s election, combining news feeds of some of the key moments with cogent analysis, worked very well — and it certainly drove impressions. But, as the twenty-four hour TV news teams discovered many years ago, there’s nothing quite as dull as journalists talking to each other on video when nothing is happening.

He promotes high-end productions like Op-Docs — which would seem to indicate the Times will treat video like text and keep aiming at the high end of the market, leaving the HuffPost Lives of the world to generate thousands of hours of cheap-to-produce talk-show-style video a year.

Also: “We are currently leaving money on the table because we don’t yet have enough video-advertising opportunities to sell.”

Play on

Interesting: The Times will expand into “smart games, building out from our crossword franchise and its remarkable success as an independent digital subscription play.”

We’re not Twitter

Here’s Thompson on the Times’ differentiation from Twitter as a news provider:

Once, and not so long ago, different papers, TV channels and news websites competed for who was going to be first with the really big breaking story. Now we know in advance where that story’s almost certainly going to appear first – Twitter and sites like it. They usually beat us all.

And yet the problem with Twitter is you don’t just get the news, you get everything else as well: uncorroborated but potentially precious eye-witness testimony and citizen journalism, but also rumour, speculation, disinformation, propaganda, lies and general nuttiness. Just a few years ago, it was sometimes suggested that the world’s professional journalists might well soon be replaced by a kind of Wikipedia of news, reported and curated by a global army of publicly spirited amateurs. But quite apart from issues of political and cultural bias and objectivity, it turns out that what we face in a major unfolding hard news story is a vast, roiling sea of actuality, with fresh breakers crashing in every few seconds and with both truth and narrative often fiendishly hard to pick out.

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LINK: nieman.harvard.edu  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 25, 2015

I’m very happy to pass along a bit of Nieman news: The Knight Foundation has awarded a grant of $223,000 to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard (of which this website is a part) to support the Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowships, which bring journalists, technologists, academics and other news innovators to campus to work on projects that can advance the field. Here’s a brief piece by Nieman Foundation curator Ann Marie Lipinski outlining the thinking behind the program.

(If you’re a regular Nieman Lab reader, you may remember Jack Riley’s piece earlier this month that looked in depth at the potential of the Apple Watch and other smartwatches for news. Jack did that research and wrote that piece during his time as a visiting fellow in February. The same is true of Amy Webb’s piece on rethinking journalism education in the new issue of Nieman Reports.)

This funding will support a minimum of five Knight Visiting Nieman Fellows a year, who will work on their projects here for terms no longer than 12 weeks. If you’ve got an idea for a project, I’d encourage you to apply — applications for the next cycle will open up this summer.

The full press release is below. Knight has also been a funder of other projects here, including Nieman Lab, which is why you see our regular disclosure noting the funding relationship whenever we write about Knight’s activities, which touch many, many corners of the journalism innovation world.

Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowships: New program at Harvard University will advance journalism innovation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — March 25, 2015 — To help news innovators advance quality journalism by incorporating new practices and technology into their work, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced $223,000 in support to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard for a new program, the Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowships.

The program will bring journalists, technologists, academics and other news innovators to Harvard to develop projects to advance journalism. Each year, Nieman will select a minimum of five fellows. Lessons learned from the projects, developed during short, intense stays lasting no longer than 12 weeks, will be widely shared.

The visiting fellowships were first introduced as an experiment in 2012. With Knight support they are now an integral part of the Nieman program. Visiting fellows will work with traditional Nieman Fellows, who spend a full academic year at Harvard. They also have access to the extensive intellectual resources at Harvard and MIT, and throughout Cambridge, including local scholars, research centers and libraries.

“In the short time we have been working with visiting fellows, the impact on their work and ours has been significant. Over time, we expect this program to help journalism and journalists in increasingly important ways,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation.

“Journalism is so challenged in the digital age, it will take many great minds — including creative people from other fields — to help lead quality journalism to its best possible future,” said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at Knight Foundation. “Congratulations to Nieman for building innovation into the nation’s oldest and most distinguished journalism program.”

Visiting fellows come from the United States and abroad to work on research, programming, design, financial strategies and other projects. Eligible candidates include journalists, publishers, programmers, designers, developers, media analysts, academics and others with an idea to enhance quality, build new tools or business models or design programs to improve journalism.

Past participants include:

— Paul Salopek, Nieman’s inaugural visiting fellow, who used his time at Harvard to plan his epic seven-year Out of Eden reporting walk around the globe to trace the path of human migration and use storytelling and technology to test a new form of “slow journalism.”

— Hong Qu, chief technology officer for Fusion, who developed his Keepr application to help journalists and other users better follow stories on Twitter and sort fact from rumor. Keepr was put to the test in April 2013 during the Boston Marathon bombings when Hong used his algorithm to identify reliable information as events unfolded.

— David Smydra from Google News, who formed a small working group with Nieman Fellows for feedback as he developed a structured data format for future news events.

— Allissa Richardson, an assistant professor of journalism at Bowie State University in Maryland, who developed a mobile journalism massive open online course (MOOC) on how to report news using only tablets, MP3 players or smartphones.

— Jack Riley, the London-based head of audience development for The Huffington Post UK, who researched the future impact of smartwatches and wearable devices on journalism.

Support for the fellowships program is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to encourage change in journalism education and advance excellence in journalism. In addition to previous support to the Nieman Journalism Lab, Knight’s many investments include: the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education and the Knight-Vice Innovators Fund, and recent grants to Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, City University of New York, Florida International University, Stanford University and the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

About the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard educates leaders in journalism and elevates the standards of the profession through special programs that convene scholars and experts in all fields. More than 1,400 accomplished and promising journalists from 93 countries have been awarded Nieman Fellowships since 1938. The foundation’s other initiatives include Nieman Reports, a quarterly print and online magazine that covers thought leadership in journalism; the Nieman Journalism Lab, a website that reports on the future of news, innovation and best practices; and Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling. Learn more at nieman.harvard.edu.

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LINK: vimeo.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 24, 2015

Last night’s news about news orgs publishing directly to Facebook wasn’t a surprise, exactly — we’ve known this was in the works for months — but it’s been a good excuse to think about the permeable boundaries of modern digital media. Yes, you have a website, but it’s less a freestanding entity than a hub in a network, one that includes social networks, search engines, ad networks, APIs, and (oh yeah) the audience — itself a loosely joined compendium of individuals each with their own habits, desires, and behaviors. No news organization is an island, and navigating that mesh of relationships with skill and equilibrium is key to whatever future news is able to create for itself.

nytrnd_logoJust as that discussion was ramping up, this video from last month’s FutureEverything conference was posted online. It’s a talk by Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie of The New York Times’ R&D Lab, and it hits on a lot of the same themes — a vision of a news outlet that isn’t self-segregated from the rest of the world. Here’s the summary:

From New York Times R&D Labs, Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie talk about our possible media futures, following the early days of the web — where growth was propelled forward by those making their own spaces online — to the present, where social platforms are starting to close down, tightening the possibilities whilst our dependency on them is increasing. Explaining how internet users are in fact participatory creators, not just consumers, Alexis and Matt ask where playing with news media can allow for a new means of expression and commentary by audiences.

A good companion piece to that video is this other one of an Alexis Lloyd talk at The New School’s Journalism+Design program a couple weeks ago: “an overview of a bunch of our recent projects and then took a deeper dive into some of the design values and research that form the conceptual foundations for those projects.”

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LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 23, 2015

This valuable story in The New York Times would appear to indicate the platformization of news has reached a new level:

In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said.

To make the proposal more appealing to publishers, Facebook has discussed ways for publishers to make money from advertising that would run alongside the content.

You may remember the late David Carr breaking this back in October. Why would Facebook want to do this? The article advances this theory:

Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless. News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter.

But as one of the article’s coauthors acknowledges, speed and seamlessness are hardly the driving factors here. The real issue is this: Facebook has far better data about individual users than any publisher has, and it wants to keep its users on Facebook. At one level, that data edge should enable it to charge higher rates to advertisers. But on another, Facebook’s audience is — by nature of its including a nontrivial share of all humanity — the definition of an undifferentiated, programmatic ad base, and premium publishers like (say) The New York Times should be able to outstrip it on a CPM basis.

Facebook controls a huge share of the traffic publishers get — 40 percent or more in many cases. Combine that with the appification of people’s online life — the retreat from the open web toward a few social-media icons on your phone’s home screen — and you start to get at the motivations here. Facebook has fallen into the role of audience gatekeeper for many publishers, and it’s offering (!) to optimize that relationship. Or at least not to screw it up:

And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic — a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors’, and over time readers might avoid those sites.

And just as Facebook has changed its news feed to automatically play videos hosted directly on the site, giving them an advantage compared with videos hosted on YouTube, it could change the feed to give priority to articles hosted directly on its site.

I’ll have more to say about this later this week, but in general, the idea of distributed content argues that publishers should be more comfortable putting their content on platforms they don’t control. But Facebook isn’t just another platform. It’s dominant in a way no other platform is, which makes it understandable that publishers might be weighing the cost-benefit — or control-benefit — analysis differently than it does for, oh, WhatsApp or Snapchat.

The game for traditional publishers now is all about short-term/long-term tradeoffs. Of course, in the long run, you want to control the customer and advertiser relationships. But today, in 2015, Facebook controls a large share of your audience and has user data you have no hope of matching. Is it worth the tradeoff to get extra Facebook dollars today in exchange for a little of your independence tomorrow? I suspect it might be, in the narrow short term, a net positive for some publishers, especially those with no hope of charging for their content. But it’s also the sort of decision that one might look back on in a few years as the moment you got swindled.

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LINK: melodykramer.github.io  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 19, 2015

It’s easy to caricature the platform divide as an age one for news: Young people read on their phones, the middle-aged read on their laptops, and the elderly read in print or watch TV news. But of course, the reality is more complicated than that. Millennials are more likely to pay for news in print than in digital; Americans 65-plus have higher smartphone and tablet adoption rates than you might think. And the intersection of technological and demographic trends guarantee there will only be more older people interacting with more digital news in the future.

It’s in that context that Melody Kramer — ex-public radio digital person, incoming Visiting Nieman Fellow — continues her admirable series of posts on breaking out of the news-nerd bubble and talking to real people about how they consume journalism. One recent post was about her neighbor Betty:

Today I walked to my friend Betty’s apartment to drop off some spaghetti and meatballs. Betty is 89 and lives just up the street. She doesn’t drive much anymore, though she still volunteers (at the White House, of all places.)

After we drank tea, I watched Betty read articles on her iPad. Her Internet was really slow. She kept accidentally clicking on the ads, or on parts of the story that she didn’t mean to click on. And she was getting a bit frustrated and worried — that by clicking on something, she was going to install malware or not be able to return to her story.

There are 13 million people between the ages of 75 and 84 in the US. There are 5 million between the ages of 85 and 94. (census) That population will grow. At some point, it will be composed of digital natives but that’s a while away. In the interim, are there better ways to design websites for this population? Are there better ways to design the news for them? Of course.

She proposed some ideas, and the post got some traction on Hacker News, where many said Betty and her generational peers were hardly the only ones who find navigating news sites treacherous. And one reader named Daniel Davis decided to go a step further and actually build a site called NewsForBetty.com, which aims for simple navigation and an aversion to user error. As Mel wrote in an update:

Last night, I went over to Betty’s, and told her about all of this. First she said, “Does that mean I went viral?” Then we went to the site together. She loved it! She found it intuitive! She knew exactly what to do, without asking me — and she couldn’t get lost on a homepage. Click a story, read a story, go back, do it again. That’s it! It’s now a bookmark on her iPad screen. Thank you so much Daniel!

#newsforbetty

A photo posted by melodykramer (@melodykramer) on

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LINK: pangaeaalliance.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   March 18, 2015

Five of the biggest online news publishers in the world are joining up to form a supercontinent. For advertising.

With The Pangaea Alliance, The Guardian, CNN International, Reuters, The Financial Times, and The Economist are creating an advertising network they hope can capture premium rates from brands. Specifically, Pangaea is designed to capitalize on the rise in programmatic buying, allowing advertisers to access 110 million unique readers — “global influencers” — across the collection of sites.

More than just offering space for automated ad buying on the five sites, Pangaea will also give marketers access to the combined audience data of its publishers. That data will be anonymized, but offers big benefits to marketers, writes Jack Marshall in The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today:

“The data is crucial. One thing we can do together is share first-party data with each other and create unique, compelling audience segments,” [Tim Gentry, global revenue director at Guardian News & Media and leader of the Pangaea project] explained. For example, subscription information from one publisher might be combined with behavioral information from other to create a detailed profile of a user that an advertiser is willing to pay a premium to reach.

Pangaea is being led by The Guardian, with plans to launch in April with display ads and later expand into other formats like native advertising and publisher trading desks.

Automated ad buying has increased in recent years as brands and agencies try to be more specific in the readership they reach on the web, and it’s generally been a force for lowering the rates publishers receive from advertisers. For publishers, the hope is twofold: leverage the halo effect of your brand to attract advertisers and use the demographics of their audiences to push for better ad rates. One way publishers try that is through creating private networks that can protect their remnant inventory from being sold for pennies on the dollar.

Teaming up like this is a natural option in an environment where the scale any individual publisher has is dwarfed by the digital giants. As Gentry told Digiday: “The sort of quality audience and trusted relationships we have with the audience we have — at the scale we have it — doesn’t get anywhere close to what some of the digital pure plays like LinkedIn or Twitter do.”

According to a study from eMarketer, spending on programmatic display advertising was projected at $10 billion in 2014, making up almost half of the display market in the U.S. They estimate spending will double to $20 billion by 2016.

While the digital advertising market presents great opportunity for publishers, it puts them in competition with giants like Facebook and Google. Those two dominate digital advertising, and, according to Pew’s 2014 State of the Media report, news companies make up just 12 percent of the total digital ad market.

This is not the first time publishers have tried to pull a Marvel Team-Up in the name of saving digital advertising revenue. In the pre-programmatic days, quadrantOne was a failed attempt by large American newspaper companies to provide a similar sort of scale. More recently, the Local Media Consortium launched as a collection of 1,200 local newspapers and TV stations working with Google in a private programmatic ad exchange. Rusty Coats, director of the Consortium, summed up the potential of private exchange to the Lab last year:

“What we learned early on with targeted selling was that if I wanted to sell, on a banner ad campaign, to women under 30 who were interested in fitness, and the only site I had to sell that on was the Knoxville News Sentinel, I did not have thousands of those women,” Coats says. “I needed to have a partner like Yahoo, so I could have thousands of women under 30 who were interested in fitness, and target those banners at them. If you think about that on a global perspective of brands wanting to reach into local markets and sell millions if not billions of impressions against that — you being out there on your own as the hometown news — you’re just not going to be coming up on the radar of these agencies.”

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