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March 24, 2014, 11:32 a.m.
LINK: www.wweek.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 24, 2014

In the Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week, Aaron Mesh has word of a new evaluation system for journalists at The Oregonian — one of Advance Publications’ daily newspapers that have been rendered less than daily in print.

Internal documents obtained by WW show that a quota system is being put in place that calls for steep increases in posting to Oregonlive.com, and promises compensation for those employees who post most often.

The new policy, shown to the editorial staff in a PowerPoint presentation in late February, provides that as much as 75 percent of reporters’ job performance will be based on measurable web-based metrics, including how often they post to Oregonlive.com.

Beat reporters will be expected to post at least three times a day, and all reporters are expected to increase their average number of posts by 40 percent over the next year.

In addition, reporters have been told to stir up online conversations among readers.

David Carr has a column tied to the same information and riffing on the general idea of tying compensation to metrics.

Mesh called me a few days ago to ask what I thought of this arrangement, and I think it’s fair to say I’m less outraged by it than a lot of people:

“Advance, for better or for worse, has been the most aggressive American newspaper company in moving to the web,” says Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab. “This is their bet. It makes sense that they would want to align their staff with that bet.”

Here’s what I mean. Advance has decided the way forward for newspapers is to get to a digital orientation as quickly as possible. Remaining tethered to print means that reader behaviors won’t change fast enough, ad sales behaviors won’t change fast enough, and editorial behaviors won’t change fast enough. Keeping the focus on print may well mean more revenue in the short term, but it delays the changes that’ll be necessary for the long term, since no one thinks print is going to make a stunning comeback anytime soon. So Advance has chosen radical action: stopping daily printing and/or daily home delivery at its papers, laying off a big chunk of their newsrooms, and demanding a shift to shorter online content and audience engagement.

That’s their bet. It may be a good bet or a bad bet. I tend to side with Ken Doctor when he argues the print losses end up being greater than the digital gains. And it’s a strategy that relies on the assumption that you’ll have the remaining print market to yourself — which is what makes the incursion of Baton Rouge’s Advocate into New Orleans so threatening.

But it’s their bet. And even though there are parts of it I don’t like — and even though there are good questions about whether these metrics and these standards are the right ones — I for one am happy to see newspaper companies making big bets. Because even if some (most!) of them are wrong, we know that continuing down the road the industry’s been on the past decade — cuts every year, smaller papers, weaker but still traditional journalism, neverending advertising decline, constantly aging audience — leads nowhere. That really can’t be emphasized enough: Other than what’s looking like a one-time bump from paywall revenue, the basic narrative of metro newspaper revenues has been virtually unchanged for years.

So we need big bets. And if we’re going to have big bets, we should have staff and incentive structures that line up with that bet.

Look at a paper making a different bet, The Globe and Mail. Canada’s national newspaper is betting that a paywall will be a big part of its financial future. So how is it aligning its staff resources? It’s tying compensation for some employees to paywall performance — how successful a given section’s articles were in converting readers to subscribers. A very different bet, but a similar alignment of incentives and goals.

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Last month, BuzzFeed’s executive editor for news Shani Hilton stopped by the Nieman Foundation, where the Nieman Fellows and I had the chance to ask her a few questions.

Hilton was just promoted to her current role this September, a position which makes her responsible for, among many other things, developing a set of newsroom standards for BuzzFeed’s ever growing staff. In addition to talking about that, we touched on hiring strategy, diversity, how you know when a new project isn’t working, international expansion, and more.

Our sister publication, Nieman Reports, has the highlights reel in text; for true devotees, the full audio of the interview is below.

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Earlier this year Spanish lawmakers passed a law requiring Google and other aggregators to pay local publishers for snippets or links to stories. As Europe continues to turn up the heat on Google, the company decided today to shut down Google News in Spain.

While it’s still uncertain how much companies like Google would have to pay every time an article appears, the penalty for not paying the fee is almost $750,000. That was apparently more than enough reason for Google to take its ball and go home. Richard Gingras, head of Google News writes:

This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

According to Mark Scott of The New York Times, Google plans to remove all Spanish publishers from its “global news aggregating products.” What effect Google’s decision will have on traffic for the Spanish news sites remains to be seen. As SEO consultant Adam Shrek’s recent analysis showed, the amount of traffic a site gets from Google News can vary.

All across Europe publishers have been demanding that Google start paying for content. Media companies in France, Spain, and Germany have led the fight, accusing the search company of becoming rich off copyrighted work from publishers. A similar law was passed in Germany, but rather than paying the fees outlined in the law Google gave publishers the choice to opt in to show up in search results. By opting in companies would waive their right to get paid. As Catherine Stupp wrote for the Lab earlier this month, there were immediate results:

To avoid paying the collection agency, VG Media, which represents the publishers that chose not to opt in, Google stopped showing snippets from their news articles on Oct. 23. Shortly after that, the publishers in VG Media gave Google a license to restore snippets to their search results — for free. Berlin-based Axel Springer, one of Europe’s largest publishers, announced on Nov. 5 that it had caved to Google’s pressure after traffic to its websites from Google dropped by 40 percent and from Google News by 80 percent when snippets were left out of search results.

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LINK: www.adamsherk.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   December 9, 2014

There’s Google and then there’s Google News. One tries to soak up the entire Internet, the other a curated selection of news sites. It’s easy to confuse the two, since you’ll often get “Google News” results at the top of a standard Google search page even if you never go near the url news.google.com. But they’re distinct parts of Googleland.

Google and publishers have a fraught relationship, and plenty have given thought to what it would be like to pull out of one or both Google corpora. (Axel Springer found out.) But how important is each to your overall search traffic? Is it your site’s presence in Google that’s driving it, or its presence in Google News?

That’s the question asked in this interesting piece by SEO consultant Adam Sherk. He used a tool to try to determine how much of 80 news sites’ search traffic came from general search and how much came from Google News. The answer: It depends.

On the high end, you had Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor, which each get more than 40 percent of their search traffic from Google News — either from the Google News site itself or a search onebox. (Update: Sherk now says oneboxes aren’t included here, which means the real impact of Google News is understated here.)

adam-sherk-google-news-top

At the very bottom? BuzzFeed, with less than 1 percent coming from Google News.

adam-sherk-google-news-bottom

It’s hard to generalize too much from the data. The Christian Science Monitor, despite its somewhat old-fashioned reputation, is actually something of a SEO powerhouse, quite good at staying on top of Google Trends and posting webby copy that matches what people are searching for in the moment. It makes sense that Reuters, as a wire service, would do well for in-the-moment news searches. And that BuzzFeed’s search traffic comes overwhelmingly from the non-news side of Google makes sense, given its abundance of evergreen listicles.

But you also have sites like Mashable (4%) and Business Insider (5%) in the low-from-Google-News category, and Bloomberg Businessweek (29%) and Newsweek (19%) on the high-from-Google-News end — each of which is the opposite of what I would have expected. So it’s more complicated than it might seem. But the broad majority of sites seem to be in that 5 to 25 percent range — meaning Google News makes up a significant but not overwhelming part of most sites’ search traffic.

Check out Sherk’s post to see data on 80 major news sites — both raw totals and the News/non-News split.

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Recent media news headlines have briefly sucked the digital discourse around new and legacy media back into the reductive binary of pro- and anti-Internet.

While asking whether the Internet helps or hurts journalism is about as useful as asking if technology is good or bad, the Pew Research Internet Project does have a study out today that comes down pretty clearly on one side.

The survey of 1,066 internet users shows that 87% of online adults say the internet and cell phones have improved their ability to learn new things, including 53% who say it has improved this “a lot.” Internet users under age 50, those in higher income households, and those with higher educational attainment are especially likely to say the internet and cell phones help them “a lot” when it comes to learning new things.

Asked if they enjoy having so much information at their fingertips or if they feel overloaded, 72% of internet users report they like having so much information, while just 26% say they feel overloaded.

[…]

News: Substantial majorities also feel better informed about national news (75%), international news (74%), and pop culture (72%) because of these tools.

Not only do individual Americans feel more personally informed because of the Internet, but a majority also believe that society at large is better informed. Interestingly, survey respondents generally felt that the Internet improved their knowledge of distant topics — pop stars and international news — more than it increased their understanding of things like local news or civic issues. 60 percent of those surveyed said they felt better informed about local news after the Internet, while 74 percent and 75 percent felt mobile phones and the Internet made them better informed about international and national news, respectively.

Media news tends to focus on the national narrative — BuzzFeed versus The New York Times versus whoever’s spending millions of dollars to build a huge new website this week. But despite efforts of programs like the Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge, the tougher nut to crack for the Internet seems to be disseminating information on a more granular level.

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A new report out today from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project takes a look at how partnerships work in journalism by way of five case studies. Rick Edmonds and Amy Mitchell write about collaborations between Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress; I-News Network, Rocky Mountain PBS, and KUSA-TV; five Texas newspapers; The Lens and WWNO Public Radio; and The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald. It’s worth noting that these examples include both nonprofit and commercial partnerships.

The report finds that, broadly, the majority of these partnerships are born out of economic necessity, and that, despite their increasing prevalence, they can be difficult to manage successfully. Interestingly, the authors say that many of these collaborations are easier to execute in legacy media — namely print and broadcast — than digitally, because of technological barriers such as incompatible content management systems.

Also of interest is the observation that few of the partnerships are financial in nature. For the most part, the goal is to work more efficiently, reach a broader audience, and tell a better story, rather than for one side or the other to increase revenue. For example, the Texas Front-Page Exchange has been sharing content gratis for five years now. From the report:

What stood in the way of this sort of cooperation for decades was industry prosperity, big newsroom budgets and a tradition whose definition of quality began with running only the work of your own staff along with wire stories.

But particularly after papers scaled back any statewide circulation ambitions as hard times set in, there came to be very little competition for audience among the five.

Other editors share Mong’s view that the cooperation, while not central to editorial strategy, is a distinct plus. Nancy Barnes came to the Chronicle in October 2013 after years at the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and began as a skeptic. “I was surprised—giving away all that content for free? But in fact these are all very distinct markets. The exchange helps us avoid redundant effort. It seems a very innovative solution.”

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