Journalists as their own brand

A recent article by Nicco Mele and John Wihbey discussed how the idea of “big media” sites will change over time and eventually change for, presumably, the better for the future of the journalism industry. 

One aspect of the Mele and Wihbey article that I found most interesting is the idea of turning a traditional news site into many individual blogs. In a way this is like unbundling the very core of a news site, but instead of unbundling content you unbundle the actual writers. The idea is for the news organization to aid their writers with the tools and technology they need, but at the same time they will cut them loose to manage and report on their own blog, essentially creating their own brand that caters to their specific readership or fanbase.

I think an interesting approach would be for these writers to post videos created on their own personal YouTube account to their blog, answering and interacting with their audience. This kind of reporting would allow people to see a more personable side of the writers they follow. It would also help build a loyal and devoted consumer base that would probably be more likely to donate, subscribe, or contribute to whatever source of advertising model the blogs run off of.

Of course this comes with the dangerous territory of not having a traditional editorial team policing each and every story that goes online. However, as mentioned in the article, the Internet tends to do most of the fact checking online these days, and any errors would surely be swiftly corrected and updated by any ethical journalist. As journalism moves towards a future dominated by social media, individual blog websites paint a much clearer picture of who a writer is and helps us understand the importance of their writing when given the ability to be fully immersed in their work on one single website. 

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Journalism without the fluff?

I recently read an article from Jeff Jarvis regarding the way newspapers covered Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and it raised a point that I felt was worth talking about. He argued in his article that the success of writing as a journalist should be judged based on what he claims to be the public’s understanding of the important material, without all the fluff. I disagree with this thought.

Normally when you think of the role of a journalist you likely think about how it is their duty to serve the public by brining them information they deserve to know. Jarvis argues that articles and stories should not take center stage as a way to inform, but rather hard facts and lists of statistics and information that the public deems important should be the standard that news organizations should be judged on. I disagree.

Today, there are plenty of sites online, often managed and policed by the public, that compile lists of important day-to-day information. Jarvis uses the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as an example to explain his disappointment in the coverage of what he deemed as essential information following the storm. The the info he was seeking (closed streets, power outages, etc) was something that could easily have been found with a quick Google search, heck, even local community groups on Facebook could probably tell him the info he seeked.

Case in point, news organizations feel it is their job to deliver articles and stories that only trained and experienced journalists can deliver. The public also expects the news industry to fill this role for them. I am not condemning the use of lists or blurbs of facts with no substance to them, I am just saying that news organizations should focus on telling a compelling story first and then sprinkle it with the facts we so desire.

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Putting the future of journalism in the hands of the people

I recently attended a talk that Michael Rosunblum, owner of RosunblumTV, gave at Stony Brook University in New York. He discussed his thoughts on the future of journalism and how the future is not looking good for people who are seeking jobs in the industry in a traditional sense.

He argued that in order to find success in the industry, people need to take matters into their own hands by becoming independent workers who can shoot, edit and find stories on their own. By doing so this will allow for independently owned new sites that also opens up the possibility of selling products and keeping most of the profit. For those who do not have the skills needed to create an independent site that runs off of product revenue, Rosunblum still stressed the importance of abandoning traditional ideals of what it is like to work in the broadcast side of journalism and to embrace the notion of journalism being driven by the millions of people who have access to smart phones.

He explained how the news industry needs to start embracing community driven, user submitted, content like videos and pictures. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are not set for surviving in the future, according to Rosunblum, simply because the business model of sites like these do not concentrate on long-term profitability. Sites like eBay and Amazon have set themselves up for surviving the future, so it is up to the journalism industry to learn how to adopt a marketing strategy just like a product driven site such as Amazon.

Regarding the thought of the future of journalism ditching traditional reporters in exchange for community driven videos and content, I still personally believe that informed news consumers will still actively seek out reliable and credible news sources when it comes to broadcast news. It is quite an assumption to say that the future of broadcast journalism will be made up of millions of self-trained video journalists. It is not, however, a far stretch to assume that a few years from now a large majority of the video we see used in professional broadcast or video journalism in general is going to be shot by amateurs holding a smartphone, or dare I say — Google Glass.

Plenty of news worthy events happen all around us in the blink of an eye. Let’s use the recent Boston Marathon bombing as an example. Almost all of the footage we have from that event is through the use of pedestrian smartphones, something that would have never been possible but only 15 or so years ago.

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Advertisers on Facebook now have the option of cost-per-action advertising

ImageFacebook recently added a new cost-per-action advertising model. What this mean is advertisers looking to raise brand awareness by getting users to ‘Like’ their page will only pay for the advertising when a user actually follows through with liking the companies page.

This is pretty big, since I am sure many companies have wasted tons of their advertising budget on ads that lead to no sales or no brand awareness. Now, for example, a company can decide that when a person likes their page, they will pay a flat CPA of $2. Or if their are running a certain promotion of a product, they will pay a CPA of say $3.50 for every successful promotion sale.

I recently blogged about the rising trend in companies seeing the importance of brand awareness and advertising through social media, and this story seems to go hand and hand with my past article.

Here is what a Facebook spokesperson had to say about the new advertising CPA model:

Facebook is now offering CPA-based (cost-per-action) ads through the ads API for certain actions, including conversions on page likes, link clicks, and offer claims. This feature will give advertisers more predictability in their spend for specific actions.

So the next time you like a companies Facebook page, be aware that you might be putting a few bucks into Facebook’s pocket in the process.

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Wall Street Journal catering to shorter attention spans?

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The above graph was created by former Wall Street Journal writer, Dean Starkman, currently of the Columbia Journalism Review. His graph shows a steep decline starting in 2007 of long-form journalism, articles of 2,500 or more words, found in WSJ’s print publication. Despite it leaving out statistics from the website, it is safe to say that things probably look pretty similar on there too. 

It is interesting to note that 2007 is also when Rupert Murdoch took over the WSJ, so undoubtedly he had a heavy hand in the switch to shorter and more digestible news articles.

This is a quote from the WSJ shortly after this graph was released:

The number of words in an article has never been the barometer by which the quality of a publication or its value to readers should be measured. Every article is reported with unique facts and anecdotes that are needed to best tell the story. We consider those factors, while respecting our readers’ busy lives, when determining the length of an article. Our very strong circulation numbers suggest that readers think we’re doing a good job.

 

It’s hard to say how much of an impact the site’s paywall model has on the decline of longer articles. Perhaps they are finding increased subscription rates by catering to the business side of news by offering articles that can be read quickly back to back with only the most important facts and details being analyzed. 

Another reason might be that long-form journalism requires much more time to produce. By limiting the amount of time that must be spent reporting a story, the writers of the WSJ are able to create more stories in quicker succession. This in turn also drives up the shareability of articles on social media sites, since more people are willing to read and share articles that don’t take a long time to digest.

 

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Journalism, meet Social Media. Social Media, meet Journalism.

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In light of the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspect of the Boston Marathon bombing, I wanted to talk about the way this story was covered in social media and traditional journalism.

I spent many hours watching broadcast news of this story, watching breaking news unfold before me. It was a fascinating process to watch how traditional news organizations were scrambling to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that social media created. Breaking news reports were often, though not always, started by reports saying something to the effect of “We just want to remind our viewers that this information is not yet confirmed and comes from a report by (insert other news company here),” almost as a way to place the blame on someone else if the information turned out to be false. Twitter was also countlessly referenced as a source of new breaking information, sometimes with an explanation of how Twitter actually works, undoubtedly for the audience that still is not sure what a ‘tweet’ actually is.

The use of social media as a primary source for the coverage of this story brought with it many problems, yet it was also arguably the most important tool the news media had at their disposal. Twitter allowed for breakneck speed when it came to updates on eye-witness accounts or updates from the Boston Police Department, but it also created much inaccuracy in the reports.

The competitiveness of journalists to get the scoop on a new juicy piece of information and the need to try and be the first to relay the information to the public created a spiral of unconfirmed reports. These reports were sometimes debunked as being not credible or untrue as fast as they were reported.

In these last few days we saw the news media at work trying their best to contextualize and tell a complete story of what was unfolding, while social media fed them the information that they so desperately needed in order to keep the public up to date. Some people might argue that the news industry was too hasty in reporting on some incidents like the identity of the suspects, but it was the journalists and the news industry that helped make sense of what was going on. They did the dirty work of sorting through the mess of tweets on Twitter and trying to sort out the credible from the potentially false. In the end of the day social media sites and journalists worked in tandem to report on one of the largest manhunt cases in American history, and I think they succeeded by letting the public know what they have a right to know, mistakes be damned.

 

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My First NPR Experience

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            This was my first time listening to NPR on my own accord. Over the years I have passingly heard it playing in the background. It has a certain recognizable tone to it that is further bolstered by constant lines like “This is NPR news…” that make it difficult to mistake NPR news for anything else.

            I approached my first true NPR experience by listening to just over an hours worth of content on their website. The structure of the site was a bit jarring at first, and learning to navigate its sometimes labyrinthine-like drop down menus of its wealth of content was a bit off-putting at first. I took the advice of seasoned NPR listeners and started with listening to the show “All Things Considered.”

            Immediately I recognized the trademark “NPR sound” of the reporters. They speak in such a way that sometimes lacks personality and enthusiasm, but there is something alluring about the way they deliver their lines of dialogue. When there is more than one reporter, they bounce off of each other like a game of table tennis, each delivering a line before handing it off to the next.

            The reporting aspect is what makes NPR so darn interesting to listen to, the way the stories are delivered makes you feel like you are watching a television broadcast, only on NPR they do not have the luxury of showing you images. The aid them in contextualizing a story, they often use vivid words and details to paint a picture in your mind.

            One great example would be a story I listened to about an Asian American rapper. I personally have no interest in rap, but hearing the reporter describe this person we could not see as having a “sapling waste, impish grin and a sketchy mustache that still hasn’t come into its own,” it really brought me into the story as if I were watching a story on television or reading a great piece of journalism online or in print.

            In almost all of the stories I listened to, at least ones that lasted for several minutes, there seemed to always be an interview with an expert or someone affected by the story. When you traditionally think of a radio interview, you think of the subjects being interviews getting the bulk of air time droning on and on about their area of expertise. Not on NPR. They seem to carefully select the very best lines of dialogue that help illustrate the most important parts of the story. Such careful selection of interviewee lines makes the stories flow smoothly, so you never get hung up on one droning quote for too long.

            The last thing I want to touch upon is the unbundling of content on their website. I am not sure if any other radio news sites practice the same system, but I was pleasantly surprised that NPR allowed me to go in and create my own custom playlist of news stories. What I mean by the unbundling of their stories is that instead of having to listen to an entire news show as a whole, which is still entirely possible, I am able to go in and hand-pick stories from across the various sections of their site. Once I have selected all of the stories that are most interesting to me I can play them back as a playlist, much like an iPod music playlist. It is like I am personalizing my very own news feed, something that I found to be highly enjoyable.

            Overall my time spent listening to NPR was highly enjoyable. I would not say it was perfect, but I was impressed at the broad array of topics covered. Everything from the creation process of Jurassic Park’s dinosaur roars, to the latest developments in the Boston Marathon bombing. I think NPR has earned a new listener.

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Flipboard 2.0 lets everyone create their own online personalized magazines

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Flipboard is a free app that originated on the iPad back in 2010 that let its users curate their Facebook and Twitter feeds into a digital magazine of sorts, similar to the website Pinterest. Now in 2012, this iPad and iPhone (Android support coming soon) app is making a huge expansion by allowing any of its users to create their own personalized magazines.

An article on The Guardian details why version 2.0 is potentially going to be a huge step forward for online journalism. On a recent post on the Flipboard blog, they tout that in the past two weeks over half-a-million users have created their very own digital magazines.

How the app works is it allows people to create a collection of their favorite articles, videos, pictures and whatever they find interesting, into an aesthetically pleasing digital magazine that other Flipboard users can subscribe to for free. Magazines range from very general topics such as political news down to specific fanzines that specialize in topics such as TV shows or antique collectibles.

What makes Flipboard 2.0 so significant from a business standpoint is the fact that any articles that users include in their magazines have a comment system, but when users comment on an article that same comment is also shared on the site it originated from. This drives potential traffic back to the originating site, which leads to more ad revenue.

Big publishers are showing interest in Flipboard, as evidenced in June 2012 when The New York Times allowed its paying subscribers to access their content through Flipboard. Ads are supported in the app for larger publishers to make some ad revenue. According to the article on The Guardian, Flipboard is also looking into doing paid subscriptions for its publishers. By keeping some content free and the rest behind a paywall-like system, Flipboard hopes to drive one click subscription plans into their repertoire. This is all plans for the future forever, for now Flipboard hopes to focus on its current estimated 50 million users in their new push for user generated magazines.

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LinkedIn wants to expand beyond being known as just an online resume directory

ImageA recent story on AllThingsD.com detailed LinkedIn’s acquisition of the newsreader app Pulse. The buyout cost LinkedIn $90 million, so it is no small purchase by any means. It was said that Pulse was in discussions with companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft, Gannett and Amazon, but in the end LinkedIn saw the most value in Pulse.

Currently, over 200 million users use LinkedIn, and Pulse will ultimately drive more traffic to the site if the news feeds take off. This is significant to LinkedIn because more traffic equals more ad business, one of the sites few resources of revenue.

 

Pulse is a news aggregator app on Apple’s iTunes store that is host to over 30 million users that read more than ten million stories every day using the app. LinkedIn is looking to expand beyond being known as just a site for resumes for recruiters and professionals, and they think Pulse will be a huge stride in driving people to return to the site on a daily basis. 

Pulse will allow LinkedIn to focus on delivering important news to its users to keep professionals coming back to seek the news they want as well as give publishers a new way to share their content.

 

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Facebook knows what you ate for dinner

ImageFacebook announced yesterday that it is introducing what they are calling “partner categories” for advertisers. What this means is advertisers will be able to further narrow down what types of potential customers they want to advertise to.

While advertisers have always had the ability to target specific ads for specific people, the categories were based solely on “Likes” and activity on Facebook and Facebook only. What makes this announcement so intriguing is that this new form of ad targeting is actually pulled from third party data.

Companies like Acxiom, Datalogix and Epsilon will supply Facebook with information such as what kind of food you buy, your occupation and what car you drive. Before you get too creeped out, rest easy in knowing that Facebook is provided all of this info on an anonymous basis, meaning that your personal details are never disclosed to advertisers. You can also opt-out of this form of ad targeting at any time if you wish. Advertisers can also only target specific categories, and not specific individuals.

This news is incredibly valuable to advertisers who fit within selling products within these categories. Being able to further hone in on specific likes of a customer is certainly not a bad thing when it comes to selling products. Before, advertisers for a meat company might know that you like eating barbecue food, but now they can know what type of meat or what brands you are buying in stores already.

I hope this form of advertising expands outside of social network sites and onto online news sites. I think this is going to be a great way for sites struggling to earn revenue to try out a new way of catering to their audience.