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Newsroom Software: WordPress and Other Open Source Options

Posted on Apr 23, 2012 in Technology & Analytics | 0 comments

Some publishers, including thought leaders like John Paton, have cited the potential of using Open Source software to develop low-cost digital newsrooms. In the blog of the Journal Register’s Ben Franklin Project, they write: “we will be using only free web-based tools” and they then deliver a catalogue of such tools. T. S. Eliot, when speaking of the “Free Verse” movement, wrote “No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.” In Silicon Valley there has long been a similar saying that “Free Software is never really free.” The issue at hand is what business and finance folks call TCO: Total Cost of Ownership. TCO is the measure of the true cost of a system, including acquisition, customization, support, maintenance, training, and several other cost factors. Open Source software is also known as Free Software, as in the Free Software Foundation, the non-profit body that supports the Open Source movement and who wrote the most common Open Source license, the General Public License or GPL. But “free” refers to the freedom to use and distribute the software; it does not actually refer to price. “The word free in the term free software refers to freedom (liberty) and is not at all related to monetary cost.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software) For newsrooms, “free” Open Source software may well be the most expensive option available. Now, before I get too deep into the issues with Open Source newsrooms, I want to go on record as saying that I am a proponent of Open Source software myself. I love WordPress, and all its fun plug-ins (look, I am blogging in it right now). My company’s web site runs on WordPress and our cloud-based newsroom software runs on the free Open Source Linux/MySQL platform. I am among other things, a tech geek with a team of open source developers. I even write code myself, when the developers aren’t looking. I can afford to use Open Source. But most small newsrooms (and a lot of larger ones) do not have the technical depth to use Open Source, software, and if they do, that technical depth is part of the cost of an...

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How to Drive Online News Revenue

Posted on Mar 28, 2012 in Newspaper Revenue | 1 comment

It breaks my heart when I read articles like a recent one by Michael Wolff of The Guardian describing the news industry’s “imploding business model” and “portending, once again, the end of the world as we know it.” (http://bit.ly/HiLIk3) His article describes why the growing trend toward mobile news is going to kill the news industry, because it will further erode revenue from CPM (impression-based) banner advertising. As if banner ads were a viable model for news regardless. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised by the report; last month John Paton (CEO of Digital First Media, the second-largest media company in the US) said “And for God’s sake stop listening to newspaper people. We have had since the mid-90s to get this right and clearly we are no good at it. Put the digital people in charge – of everything. They can take what we have built and make it better. It is so very important we get this right – not just for the industry and investors – but for our communities.” (http://jxpaton.wordpress.com/) As one of those “digital people” I’ve been working to transform the news industry by introducing digital media innovation, both on the newsroom and the sales revenue side. I generally work with clients to help them tailor a sales strategy that will work with their market and their editorial focus, but I thought I had better discuss in this blog some of the tangible options that a newsroom can bring to bear. And none of them are banners or paywalls! If there is one thing I have learned from 20 years working in Silicon Valley, it’s that you have to follow the money: in this case, you have to analyze where businesses are spending their ad budgets. And so that’s where I started, by looking at business advertising spend. For the past 3 years I have focused on local and specialty news outlets: those news and magazine publishers whose target demographic is either geographically local or psychographically tuned to both their audience and their advertisers. (In other words, where the advertisers are targeting, in the publication’s readership, a highly qualified demographic of consumers.) So if my suggestions below seem too focused...

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Why Photos are Critical to Online News

Posted on Feb 24, 2012 in Future of News, More Visitors: SEO & SEM | 0 comments

As newspapers make the transition from print to online, they need to understand the importance of adjusting their editorial style to fit the new medium. I should quote Marshall McLuhan, but years ago I worked with tech writer and information architect Freda Salatino, who used to say (in her Long Island accent), “When you create an online help system from a user guide, don’t just schlep the book online.” Like McLuhan, her point was that online is used differently from print, and that certainly holds true for news as well. The easiest  and most important lesson is in how you use images. Print papers don’t put a photo with ever story. With online stories, photos should be the rule, not the exception. Online is now a multimedia experience. This  is in part why forward-thinking news executives like John Paton issued Flip video cameras to all his journalists, and why every reporter in the DNAinfo newsroom carries a camera. With smartphones now boasting high-resolution cameras and high-def video, there is no longer an excuse for a journalist not carrying a camera in his or her pocket. Why can’t you ignore putting photos on the bulk of your stories? Here are a few good reasons: Every story is your home page—your front page. Unless you are a hugely trusted brand, up to 90% of your online traffic is coming from search engines. (Don’t believe it? See my previous post about what you can learn from site analytics and go check for yourself.) Even if you are a trusted brand, meaning that you have a huge number of repeat visitors to your home page, it still means that perhaps 50% of your traffic is coming from a search engine. This means that your readers are first seeing your site from the perspective of a story page. Would you ever have a front page with no photos? I don’t think so. There are also significant search engine optimization (SEO) benefits in putting images on every story. Search engines like Google give higher ranking to web pages with photos, as long as the photos are properly tagged with metadata (the title and alt tags...

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From Newspapers to Digital Media: Follow John Paton

Posted on Feb 16, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

I have to take a short break from my SEO series to comment on an article that appeared this past Saturday in the Irish Times: “Narrowing the gap between old and new media is the future.” This article compares and contrasts “old media traditionalist” Alan Crosbie, chairman of Thomas Crosbie Holdings (Irish Examiner and the Sunday Business Post) against “new media messiah” John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media (the second-largest U.S. media chain). The Irish Times article is unrelentingly harsh in its portrayal of Alan Crosbie, who does have a few legitimate reasons for his fear and loathing of new media and the Internet. After all, TCH hasn’t been that effective in tapping into digital revenue, and free online news without a revenue model can undermine the value of print newspapers. But Crosbie’s concerns seem to be more directed at preserving quality reporting and what he calls “provenance,” which I call the responsibility and accountability expected of journalists, especially in terms of unbiased reporting and fact-checking. It reminds me of the book by Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. In an interview on the PBS News Hour, Keen said: “The key argument is that the so-called ‘democratization’ of the Internet is actually undermining reliable information… with user-generated content, we’re actually doing away with information, high-quality information, … and replacing it with user-generated content, which is unreliable, inane, and often rather corrupt.” (18 September 2007) The Irish Times reporter Shane Hegarty goes on to extol the approach taken by John Paton, who has gained a reputation not only for embracing digital media, but for inviting the barbarians–citizen journalists–into the keep. Paton is a remarkable figure, and is a likely hero in the drama that pits traditional print against new media. His blog Digital First documents his progress in the turnaround of Journal Register Company (and now Digital First Media) over the past year, and provides candid, transparent insights into his thoughts and approach. It is a remarkable journey well worth reading by anyone in the newspaper industry. I very much admire Paton: his fearless dash into the digital world, his unflinching belief in online news revenue, his...

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