Rich Julius: Blogging Writes

On the Digital Future of Content

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Kids, News, and Video

Posted on Feb 13, 2013 in eLearning, Future of News | 0 comments

My 10-year-old daughter has become a blogger! (Kudos go to her teacher; I never thought to introduce her to blogging myself.) No, you won’t find her posts out in the blogosphere; they are safely contained behind But her class is engaged in a unit on blogging, and you can imagine that I’m delighted. One thing that struck me was how many of the kids in her class post videos on their blogs. Video sharing has become an integral part of the digital native’s world, and it’s remarkable how engaged children are with the medium. Hardly a day goes by that Sarah doesn’t show me a video she discovered from someone at school. At this age, kids are also getting more interested in news. I remember being introduced to current events by my 4th grade teacher. Could this be a teaching moment for the news industry? I was looking over the web properties owned by a potential client today, and I noticed that they contained comparatively little video, and that the news agency itself lacked their own YouTube channel. Now, when I was at we started with a heavy video element, but we eventually re-balanced the video against text, image, and interactives when we saw that our demographic wasn’t clicking video as much as we expected. I believe that every smart, forward-looking news agency has been looking at similar metrics. But we may be missing an opportunity. Think about it: the next generation of news consumers are already keenly engaged with online video. My daughter is a digital native. She thinks that NPR and The News Hour are boring. She won’t read newspapers. “They’re for grandpas” is a direct quote. No surprise, right? When I was her age I just read the comics section. But she’s curious about the greater world around her, and it’s time to introduce her to online news sources. She needs a site that is rich with video and images and focused on the types of stories kids are interested in, including stories involving local kids (sports, community programs, theater, music, and other events). News sites of course carry a lot of material that...

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Journatic, The Tribune, and Offshore Outsourced Journalism

Posted on Jul 3, 2012 in Future of News | 2 comments

I am struck by the recent angst over Journatic’s use of fake bylines. The byline business is regrettable, but I wonder how much of the issue is really about the Tribune’s investment in Journatic, and the resulting loss of half the Trib’s hyperlocal staff. The Journatic model of outsourcing “grunt work” to offshore sources will be familiar to anyone who has followed US business trends over the past 20 years. Companies want to stay in business, and even those that aren’t under significant financial pressure will embrace operating efficiencies. The news industry is under terrible pressure–most of it due to digital inaction: an incomprehensible failure or worse, a self-inflicted refusal to sell the new media advertising products that businesses are actually seeking at record levels–and Journatic offers a model that increases inventory while cutting costs. That makes this model all but inevitable. Offshoring has happened across many American business sectors, from manufacturing to knowledge work. Even legal firms are offshoring patent writing and research to India. In the software industry, it is quite a common practice to offshore certain tasks like software quality testing. This was bemoaned by the industry at the onset, and the quality of service started off fairly low, but over the past decade it has become an industry standard. The old argument goes something like this: do American workers really want to do the rote tasks, or do they want to focus on the skilled work? If companies can efficiently cut costs by offshoring the grunt work, those savings can be used to fund innovation back home. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way; sometimes US workers simply lose jobs, the savings are poured into management bonuses, and the product suffers. But just as often when companies forfeit quality, there is a correction as they lose market share and realize they need to improve the product. Hopefully we’ll see that trend in journalism, where consumers should, and do, demand quality reporting. But many in the world of journalism, despite their focus on news, seem to have remarkably little sense of their place in the new world order. The newspaper industry is struggling to stop a...

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Warren Buffet is No Fool

Posted on Jun 18, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

Why is Mr. Buffett buying newspapers? Is he just collecting quaint old businesses out of sentimentality, like someone might collect old baseball cards? I don’t think so. Yesterday Christine Haughney of the New York Times wrote “Three years after telling his shareholders that he would not buy a newspaper at any price, Mr. Buffett has moved aggressively into the business, buying 63 papers and revealing a 3 percent stake in Lee Enterprises, a chain of mostly small dailies based in Iowa.” ( What has changed in three years? Well for one, given the steady downward spiral of the newspaper industry, newspaper companies are certainly cheaper to buy these days. Buffet himself is somewhat vague about his motivations: “I do not have any secret sauce,” Mr. Buffett said in a phone interview. “There are still 1,400 daily papers in the United States. The nice thing about it is that somebody can think about the best answer and we can copy him. Two or three years from now, you’ll see a much better-defined pattern of operations online and in print by papers.” (Haughney, NYT, ibid) I believe this to be a bit disingenuous. Buffett is picking primarily local newspapers, ones with deep roots in the community. This isn’t sentimental, this is a business strategy. And I don’t think it has to do with faith in the resurrection of print journalism. Local newspapers have powerful assets, currently undervalued and underutilized, that can be leveraged in a digital world. They have strong brand identities, longstanding ties to the community, a loyal readership, and rolodexes full of advertisers. The smart money is on those who make this connection, who understand that news is part of an advertising ecosystem. Gannett is moving aggressively to capture the local business advertiser with Gannett Digital Marketing Services (and ShopLocal). is steadily growing its hyperlocal news network. There is value in those small local newspapers, but the value isn’t the paper itself; it’s in the interplay of valued content, consumer attention, and relationships with local...

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The Future of News: It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

Posted on May 1, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

I spend a fair amount of time in forums discussing news, both newspapers and digital news. I am struck by how often someone will chime in with “My grandmother won’t read news online” or “I don’t own a smartphone” or “I like paper coupons” as if those lone opinions somehow underscore a business case for favoring print. Now don’t get me wrong, it is true that there is a demographic associated with every one of those statements. But alone, one person’s opinion is not in itself proof of a trend, a market size, or even a powerful and resilient demographic. Too often an editor or publisher makes business decisions based on their own personal world view, or based on the views and experiences of the newspaper people with whom they associate. This is a mistake that can kill an industry. I came to the newspaper industry by way of the information design and user experience world, serving for over a decade as an information architect (or IA in Silicon Valley parlance). Information architecture is defined by Richard Saul Wurman as “the structure or map of information which allows others to find their personal paths to knowledge.” While a trained IA or user experience designer might develop solid user interfaces through natural instinct, we are trained early on not to design for what we would find intuitive ourselves, but for what the intended users (profiled into market segments or demographic archetypes), would find intuitive. This is one of the basic principles of user-centered design: you must think outside yourself and continually test your assumptions. I have worked for several years in marketing as well, and I know that marketing folks have similar tenets: don’t rely on positioning that would sway you, the writer, but instead think about what positioning would most influence your targeted demographic markets. And so I would strongly urge decision makers in the news industry (heck, everyone in the news industry!) to spend more time thinking not about what they would like, but where their advertisers and their readership are headed. Study the facts and figures. Looks at trends and analysis. You know how to find sources,...

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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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Capitalizing on News Assets

Posted on Feb 2, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

Noted journalist Bob Garfield is the author of The Chaos Scenario, a 2009 book about the collapse of traditional media. Garfield was recently interviewed by Peter Conti, EVP of Borrell Associates, an advertising and media industry research and consulting firm. (Garfield will be presenting the keynote address at Borrell’s annual Local Online Advertising Conference in New York City.) The interview, available on YouTube, is titled ‘The future isn’t in hyper-local news’ (an admittedly disheartening title for those of us in the local news industry). Mr. Garfield says: “The combination of incredible fragmentation, which limits your audience size, and the inexorable downward trajectory of advertising prices, means that nobody, nobody is going to have the critical mass to professionally and profitably deliver news. In my opinion, the future isn’t in hyperlocal per se, as a standalone operation. In my opinion, weirdly, the answer is going to be in consolidation. I believe that in every market, the winner will be the entity, whether it’s a local TV station, a public radio station, a local newspaper, a series of hyperlocal sites banded together, or some parties as yet unthought of, to form strategic relationships for content and for revenue, with other players in that market. And the combination of organizations that get there first, and create revenue streams while simultaneously becoming the central hub for news and information culture, in their communities, they win, they scoop the pot, and everybody else just disappears. Weirdly, paradoxically, this vast, vast fragmentation is going to lead to consolidation, and I believe, in market after market after market, winner takes all.” First, the assumption that advertising prices are in a downward trajectory isn’t entirely true. Banner advertising is certainly in a downward trajectory, as “banner blindness” and poor click-through rates show it to be ineffective advertising. But advertising models that pay off remain quite valuable to businesses. The winner in a news catchment area needs to be offering effective advertising, the kind that reliably and measurably delivers customers.   Second, while Garfield speaks about markets being too fragmented to support hyperlocal news, he also notes that advertising will coalesce around one entity (local TV, public radio, or the local newspaper) that wins all the marbles. In this...

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Where Did Newspapers Go Wrong?

Posted on Feb 1, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

About a decade ago, newspaper agencies began to lose sight of what advertisers were asking for, and at the same time they failed to monetize valuable online content, focusing almost wholly on one of the worst forms of online advertising: banner ads. They also ceded revenue from areas like classifieds and job postings to Internet competitors, and missed new online opportunities in areas like coupons, business directories, video infomercials, and email direct marketing. It’s little wonder then that newspaper revenues are shrinking. The question persists, how is it that Silicon Valley 20-somethings found it so easy to eat the newspaper industry’s lunch? Why was the industry so slow to adapt? This blog is about forward-thinking solutions, so I am not eager to dwell on what has already happened. The lunch has been eaten; it’s time to get a new one. Hindsight, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his essay “Connecting the Dots,” is subject to “’creeping determinism’–the sense that grows on us, in retrospect, that what has happened was actually inevitable.” (Although, dear reader, I do look forward to your comments in this regard.) Let’s just say for now that newspapers were neither staffed nor prepared to embrace digital innovation. But that time has passed, and digital opportunity is readily available, and comparatively inexpensive, to whose who reach for it. It’s instructive to look at the habits of advertisers, since advertising represents 50% to 75% of a newspaper’s overall revenue. While newspaper sales departments are still trying to sell print ads, local business advertisers have moved on to new and better ways to connect with their customers: Facebook business pages, YouTube branded channels, mobile business apps, email campaigns, online coupons, and much more, almost all of it online. Advertisers are spending money; record amounts of it. In fact, online ad spending has finally surpassed print ad spending. Just not at the newspaper. This has to change. It’s not an inevitable trend, it’s a blind spot that must be addressed. The 2012 projections are now in, following a substantial rise in 2011: “US online ad spending will post growth well above 20% again this year to reach nearly $40 billion, eMarketer estimates, as the...

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The Fall of the Newspaper

Posted on Jan 31, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

For generations, local businesses relied on newspapers as the mainstay of their advertising budgets. In fact, until 1992, when TV and cable overtook them, newspapers were by far the largest source for overall US advertising spending, representing 37% in 1949 and dropping steadily to under 15% in 2008. And with that, the pundits began sounding the death knell for newspapers. Advertising Media Share chart by Martin C. Langeveld But for small and mid-size businesses, who cater to a more geographically local market, local newspapers continued to linger on as a critical source for advertising. After all, local news readers are well-qualified, targeted local business customers. The person reading the news is more likely to clip a coupon, read about your business, and walk into your store. Today, the local paper is itself no longer the primary focus of local business advertising spend. Newspaper agencies have seen their profits eroded as advertisers move away from traditional print advertising in favor of online, mobile, and social media. (In upcoming posts I’ll discuss where that ad spending has headed, and what newspapers can do to survive and even flourish in the digital age.) According to a 2010 report from Pew Research and the American Society of News Editors: “…the leaders of America’s newsrooms are nonetheless worried about the future. Fewer than half of all those surveyed are confident their operations will survive another 10 years—not without significant new sources of revenue. Nearly a third believe their operations are at risk in just five years or less. And many blame the problems not on the inevitable effect of technology but on their industry’s missed opportunities.” Newspaper Association of America print and online ad revenue chart 2010 With print revenue dropping, and online revenues almost flat, newspapers indeed seem to be headed for extinction. Hundreds of fine papers, large and small, have vanished in the past few years. The search for profitable models continues. Millions of dollars worth of “news experiments” have been funded by the likes of the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and others. A 2010 Pew Research report states: “Jan Schaffer of J-Lab  estimated that since 2006, more than $141 million in...

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Why Blogging Writes?

Posted on Jan 30, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

When I first conceived of this blog I had intended to write about the remarkable technical work that rocketed, the hyperlocal Manhattan news site, from 0 to 1.2 million visitors/month in about 18 months–something of a record in a town known for the competitiveness of its news outlets. (Here’s a link to an article that gives context for how my alma mater is faring in the battle for New York.) I can’t lay claim to the real driver of DNAinfo’s success–the remarkable editorial quality that made it so popular among New Yorkers. For that I have to credit the editorial staff, especially Leela De Kretser, who now runs the show.  But like a proud father I had “bragging rights” to the technology that enabled that content. After all, while content is king, you can’t leave orbit without a rocket ship. (And while I may mix metaphors on occasion, I do know how to build those web-enabled rocket ships.) Technology almost always serves a greater business purpose. I’ve been a consultant to the Fortune 1000 for many years, and I’ve always told my clients that, before we embark upon a web or mobile project, we first need to look at the business case. We have to make sure we are solving the right problem; too many projects are completed successfully yet without actually making the business more successful. So I decided to turn that business thinking to the newspaper industry, and last year I co-founded iMedia Revenue in order to pursue not just technology, but to solve the real problems faced by struggling newspapers who must learn to think like digital media outlets (or face extinction). Blogging Writes is therefore a business blog, about the news industry, for the news industry. Technology is just one important component. What I propose are largely online (web, mobile, tablet) solutions, so whether you are an online news outlet looking to support yourself with online revenue, or a print newspaper looking to survive in the digital age, you’ll find more than valuable insights in this blog: you’ll find real actionable solutions. In Blogging Writes we’ll look at trends, business drivers, revenue models, and the technologies...

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