Building a news bridge

A red-blue newspaper exchange could close the gap

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We’re going to take a break in our discussion of Thales Teixeira’s findings on digital disruptors to talk about a new idea. Here it is:

What if every American in a blue state who has a digital subscription to their daily newspaper were given a digital subscription to a daily newspaper from a red state?

What if every American in a red state who bought a digital subscription were given a digital subscription from a blue state?

What if American newspapers, weeklies and dailies, took it upon themselves to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats?

Why don’t we lead?

Digital subscriptions make it possible. Why not build the knowledge of people who, by subscribing, have demonstrated they care enough to read about their own communities? Why not build their knowledge about another community, on the other side of the gap?

Imagine the conversations one might hear in town, not just about the latest school board meeting here, but also the school board meeting there. Imagine the conversations you might have in the newsroom, about how your sister paper covered an issue or event.

The initiative, to reach scale, should be led by national newspaper organizations. It should be branded and marketed (house ads, at least). It should be exceedingly easy for subscribers. We want them to read both publications.

Big chains might find it relatively easy to set up sister relationships within the chain. Small, independently owned papers might need help finding a sister paper — maybe, could ask their own readers to help identify one.

Why don’t we lead?

A redesign for you

Three updates and a design note for readers

Gadzukes, a lot is happening out there. Here, too.

The SaveMyDaily site has been reorganized. With the post count approaching 50, it was time to make the blog easier to read. Please check out the “Pick a Topic” list in the site margin. If your time or interest is limited, click on a subject to see just the pertinent posts. Your humble host hopes the feature will help focus our efforts toward a successful end.

As for doings elsewhere, here are updates to posts previously published.

Fish or Foul? (Newspaper publishers care about what they print — and pay a price for it.): In a Dec. 15, 2017, post on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company’s network is more than an elaborate maze of digital plumbing:

“Facebook is a new kind of platform different from anything before it. I think of Facebook as a technology company, but I recognize we have a greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through. While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed.

“With any changes we make, we must fight to give all people a voice and resist the path of becoming arbiters of truth ourselves. I believe we can build a more informed community and uphold these principles.”Mark Zuckerberg

For more on the steps Facebook is taking to do that, take a look at the company’s “News Feed FYI: Addressing Hoaxes and Fake News.”

Making it clear (Better online news design might regain reader trust.): In “So, is it news, opinion or advertising?,” Michelle Morgante, managing editor of The Merced Sun-Star, points out that readers often don’t know the difference between the three. If online news sites do label every piece with a descriptive design element (NEWS, OPINION, etc.), it might be wise to include a link that explains the difference between them — or a link to Morgante’s column.

Discriminating distribution (Should the distribution method dictate the news content?): The Nieman Lab reports that The New Haven Independent, a nonprofit online-only news outlet, has tailored its cop shop policy in recognition of the reach and persistence of internet news. Paul Bass, the paper’s editor and founder is quoted as saying, “With the advent of the Internet, what’s online becomes people’s main or only source of news. People’s reputations are at stake, and often the arrest itself and not the outcome is what is known about them.” (“No mugshot exploitation here: The New Haven Independent aims to respect the reputations of those arrested in the community it covers” —Neiman Lab)

Making it clear

Better online news design might regain reader trust.

Hello. What do you want to read today?

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What would happen if every online newspaper had a home page that looked like this?

What if, when you clicked the news button, the next page only displayed news stories?

What if, when you clicked on a news story, the “NEWS” label was repeated top and bottom, so that, even if the story was a 10,000-word epic, or even if you arrived through a side door (say, a Facebook link), you knew what you were reading?

What if every page had the same three buttons on the right margin, offering a constant option to switch from news to analysis to opinion?

What would that sort of a design do? Well, perhaps:

  • reporters and editors would have to identify each piece of content as they prepare it for publication (a useful exercise, to be sure);
  • each reader would have to make a conscious decision—facts, analysis or opinion;
  • ergo, opportunities for confusing the three, particularly facts and opinion, would be reduced;
  • ergo, our readers might learn to trust us again.

The design of print newspapers evolved over years and worked quite well. Only news appeared on the front page. Opinion only appeared on the editorial and op-ed pages. Columns and analytical pieces were labeled as such.

Today, the front page (i.e., the home page) contains every kind of content the paper has. It’s quite easy to begin reading an opinion piece without knowing that’s what you’ve done. And if you don’t realize it’s an opinion piece, you will assuredly detect a point of view. And if you detect the point of view that was deliberately inserted into the piece, and you don’t realize it was deliberately done because — HEY! IT’S AN OPINION PIECE! — you might quite naturally conclude that the publication is slanted.  All of it. News, too.

No matter what business models we come up with, if readers don’t trust us, they won’t read our products. A little more clarity could help.

UPDATE (02/16/2017)

In “So, is it news, opinion or advertising?,” Michelle Morgante, managing editor of The Merced Sun-Star, points out that readers often don’t know the difference between the three. If online news sites do label every piece with a descriptive design element (NEWS, OPINION, etc.), it might be wise to include a link that explains the difference between them — or a link to Morgante’s column.

Leaping out of the box

The silo model — a niche approach to citywide coverage.

In our last post, we proposed working on six business models, but only two (online only and online lead, print follow) were really new.

Let’s leap out of the box and consider an online model that doesn’t look like a traditional newspaper. It doesn’t even look like a single business.

Say you live in a city where the daily has gone under. Your city needs to know what’s happening within its boundaries.

Now imagine a loose network of online-only start-ups. They are silos, on purpose.

CitySports just covers sports. You love sports? You’d subscribe. You sell golf balls? You’d place an ad. It’s a clean read, a clean buy, simplicity amid the online cacophony.

CityEd just covers education. You have kids in school? You’d subscribe to CityEd. You want to recruit high school grads to your college? You’d place an ad.

CityGov, CityCourts, same idea. CityEats for coverage of restaurants and grocery stores, CityBuys for consumer retail.

In each case, the websites (and associated Facebook pages and Twitter feeds) appeal to a particular segment of the city’s readers and advertisers. Each silo’s reporter(s) and editor are devoted to the beat, specialists in the topic. Each silo’s design is specific to that topic. But, and here’s where the economies of scale come in, the silos have help.

A unifying structure of shared resources floats over them all. They share a tech staff, an ad portal, a business back-end, a circulation database and a customer support team that is second to none.

They also share an upper level editorial staff that provides guidance, coordinates cross-silo journalism, and manages the coverage hit squad, which includes experts in data analysis, digital and video design, and plain old-fashioned investigative journalism. Each silo can call in the hit squad when a story calls for more effort than the silo staff can provide.

Let’s say this model survives in the marketplace. Financially, it’s a success, but how does it measure up to the traditional business model?

That question leads us right back to where  this blog began.

One way to evaluate the success of any new model for news is to compare its results against the list of BENEFITS we’ve compiled here. Let’s ask ourselves, benefit by benefit, can the new model do this? Can it do that? Does it provide something better?

No matter how far we leap out of the box, no matter how far we leave the traditional newspaper business model behind, its benefits will remain an accurate measure of our success.

Exploiting viral inventory

When your paper’s moment occurs, will your digital ads be ready?

I’ve been noodling about ad-space inventory lately.

I know.  It sounds boring. Stick with me, though. You might find yourself fascinated.  We’re going to look at the topic from two perspectives.

At a traditional daily, the number of times a given ad is viewed is dictated by the press run. The press run (the count of papers printed) is typically the count of subscribers, plus a cushion for single-copy sales.

First perspective, the advertiser:  Presume you’ve placed a display ad in the Thursday edition of a traditional daily to advertise a weekend sale at your store. The Thursday press run is 40,000 copies, so, in effect, you’ve bought 40,000 ad views.

The paper is delivered to your 40,000 potential customers on Thursday morning; you’re all set for your sale.

Now, presume there is no print daily in your community, so you’ve placed your campaign with the local online newspaper. You’ve asked that your ad be delivered from midnight Wednesday through midnight Thursday to 40,000 unique viewers. You presume that most of the newspaper’s online viewers are local, because the website’s content is about local events and issues (and besides, the paper told you so).

Here’s the thing. An online paper doesn’t have a press run. Instead, the count of papers printed (as it were) is dynamically dictated by demand, and that can vary — wildly — from day to day.

If Thursday’s edition is a dog and traffic is down, your 40,000 ad views won’t be delivered.

If Thursday’s edition goes viral, your 40,000 ad views may go out in an hour. And then it gets interesting.

If your campaign has been properly set up, it will be stopped by the ad-serving software when it’s dished up your creative 40,000 times.  (Of course, since the edition has attracted attention from around the world, your ad has been seen by many who don’t live anywhere near your store.)

What if you put your store’s url in the ad? And what if the campaign wasn’t set up properly and your ad goes out millions of times? Ooh, I hope your online retail operation is ready for uber demand. You could be sold out before the weekend arrives.

Let’s not go there. Let’s presume your campaign was set up properly and ends as it should. In fact, let’s presume the paper’s ad-serving software has to max out every campaign in its queue that’s scheduled to go.  Then … what?

It’s time to switch perspectives, to that of the paper’s view. An online edition that’s gone viral is going out to new readers.  The ad server has to send something out. Won’t it be a shame if the only creatives it has to deliver are stale house ads? What could/should an online newspaper do to be sure that, in the event of a viral outbreak, all that excess ad-space inventory is exploited in the most advantageous way?  Hmmm.