A redesign for you

Three updates and a design note for readers

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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)

Fish or Foul?

Newspaper publishers care about what they print — and pay a price for it.

Thus far in our discussion of newspaper business models, we’ve posited that being the gatekeeper and owning one’s distribution system is desirable, for two reasons.

1) It guarantees that the publisher has control over the news product and can ensure it’s of sufficient quality to fulfill its public service role.

2) It enables the publisher to wring every cent of profit from the distribution of the news product and the sale of ad space, which subsidizes the cost center that is the newsroom.

What would happen if news publishers no longer cared about the first reason, and didn’t have to subsidize any newsroom at all? Certainly seems like a lucrative model.

Are we watching it happen? Not by traditional newspaper publishers, but by new companies playing a mutated form of the traditional role?

Which brings us to the recounting of a robust discussion your host recently had with a dear friend, a former ad director of a daily newspaper, now retired.

In the comfort of his living room, over glasses of wine shared with he and his wife (who remained tactfully quiet and admirably pleasant), the question of whether or not Facebook and Google are publishers boiled over.

I argued that they are; my friend contended that they are not.

The companies are a new form of business, my friend said, a glorified pipe through which content generated by others passes, with a certain amount of revenue, of course, staying behind to build more pipe and fatten the wallets of its owners.

I countered that, since their algorithms dictate which ads and content their servers send out, Google and Facebook are exercising discretion and are therefore acting as publishers, not just pipes.

It’s nary impossible to build a sustainable business model if you don’t understand the marketplace and the nature of your potential competitors. So let’s noodle on here.

A newspaper printing press and its circulation department are akin to the internet service providers (ISPs) that computers use to communicate around the world. Both the press and circulation system and an ISP act as a conduit, a smooth-bore pipe.

The staff of the newspaper, though, determines every bit of news and advertising that does, or does not, go through that pipe. Newspaper publishers exercise discretion.

Google and Facebook do too — your news feed doesn’t just happen, you know — algorithms (which are just coded forms of human logic) create your feed.

Newspaper publishers accept responsibility for what they publish. Google and Facebook don’t even describe themselves using that term.  They are neither fish nor fowl, neither a smooth-bore conduit nor a publisher wholly responsible for the content their servers send out.

We may cry  “Foul!” but theirs is a business model with which we must now compete — or use to our advantage.

UPDATE (02/16/2017)

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.”

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.

Back to that model thing

One size may no longer fit our need for news.

Let’s talk turkey.

Back to finding sustainable news models. If the presidential election is any sign, we’d better pick up the pace. If we can help solve the newspaper business model problem, we’ll solve about half (if not more) of the world’s other problems, too.

Here’s the thing: One model won’t do. Not anymore. News is becoming a layered thing, and the businesses within each layer face different opportunities and challenges than those above or below. Your humble host can see a need for at least six models.

Model 1, national newspaper: The prima donna of large chains, this species of news producer can cheaply build a nationwide circulation base online because it has cross-country appeal — it’s producing original news about big issues that interest readers from Alaska to Maine.

It can compete for national advertisers. It’s supported by profits gleaned from smaller dailies in the parent chain. It might anchor a chain-owned wire service that’s fed by and to the smaller dailies and is also resold to other content providers.

It can be a destination website to which online viewers turn, or, through business deals, become a utility, available anywhere a viewer/reader is looking for national news (e.g., buy a subscription to your local daily and get a free subscription to the national paper). Or it can try to be both, a destination and a utility.

But, national papers compete on their beat, and, given the aggregating effect of the internet, how many of them can survive? How many versions of a given national event will the market bear?

Model 2, small chain: A smaller, regional newspaper chain without national aspirations, perhaps a portfolio of weeklies with an anchor daily, can also exploit economies of scale and can offer advertisers a regional buy. The papers may be able to repackage and share content (especially if the weeklies publish on different days of the week), but coverage and circulation overlaps and adjacencies also can pose severe branding and management challenges. Should there be one shared regional website, or one for each publication or both, and what about Facebook? Circulatory cannibalization, brand confusion, and online content duplication can all occur.

Model 3, solo daily: The standalone daily newspaper, the traditional monopoly model, still exists but faces (as we all know) new challenges. This business can be nimble, but has little opportunity to employ economies of scale, has a limited circulation area and is reliant upon that area’s economic viability.

Model 4, online only: Like it says. Online. Only.

Model 5, online lead, print follow: We borrowed this idea from one of this blog’s followers (see, Dan, I WAS listening!). The model is this: produce a daily online news report, then develop the best of the stories for a weekly print edition.

Model 6, weeklies: The name of this blog is Save My Daily, but it may be that, in the end, our country winds up with a whole bunch of weeklies, one daily in each state capital, and one or two national papers. If that’s where we’re headed, it behooves us to consider the model for a healthy weekly.

Look, we’re just chewing this turkey down. There’s a lot to digest. If you have ideas or thoughts to share over the table, please comment. Thanks.

Keeping our eye on the prize

What kind of news do we want?

Yesterday, I drove to the local community college to watch two touring debaters from Great Britain discuss objective media versus partisan media.

The free event, hosted by Chesapeake College’s Honors Council, focused on a question of preference, for living in a country where major media outlets would be balanced and objective, or for living in one where major media outlets represented different political and world agendas.

The debaters, James Baross and David Jones, landed their points with vigor.  Here are just a few of them:

Jones stood for one state-sponsored but independently run media outlet that would strive to report balanced and unbiased news, maximizing truth (e.g., the BBC), and that, when found in error, would publish retractions with the same prominence as the original mistake.

Conversely, he warned, in a commercial news landscape offering a plurality of views, each view stems from the top, from the news outlet’s owner. When an owner  (and one’s boss) is pushing an agenda, Jones cautioned, the agenda takes primacy over facts and accuracy. And partisan media sensationalize the news to drive up readership, creating disparate visions of America. Citizens are forced to choose between competing realities, each defined in opposition to the other. Society becomes polarized.

Baross stood for a media world consisting only of partisan, commercial outlets presenting news aligned with their ideologies (e.g., Fox News, MSNBC). You don’t have time to evaluate and interpret the tremendous flow of facts and events that an unbiased news source would present, he reminded the audience. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who shares your views do that for you? Doesn’t it make sense, Baross suggested, for you to follow an ideologue from the mainstream media who thinks the way you do? Besides, it’s impossible to be truly neutral, he reasoned. Even when a news source is simply presenting facts, judgments and evaluations occur.

To illustrate that point, Baross told a story about two monks in a monastery.

One of the monks goes to his pastor and asks, “Pastor, am I allowed to smoke while I pray?”

“No, no, how dare you!” responds the pastor. “You are desecrating a sacred activity!”

Another monk asks the pastor, “Pastor, is it okay if I pray while I smoke?”

“Of course it is, my son,” the pastor says. “Praying is an activity to be done at any time, all the time, whatever you’re doing.”

Just the framing of a question, what comes first and what comes last, changes the way in which a situation is perceived. “Even in a world in which you simply tell facts, you can’t avoid implying position; you can’t avoid bias,” Baross concluded.

“We agree,” responded Jones.  “You can’t have an unbiased news media source. But what you can do is, you can set up a primary news organization that has the overriding ideology of promoting unbiased information.”

Ooh, they’re good, those debaters from Great Britain.  Their arguments reminded me that, while we try to find ways to financially support excellent news coverage in this country, we also need to keep our eye on the prize — what sort of news coverage we want.

That task may have become a little bit easier this week. For in this world in which we live, in addition to objective news and partisan news, we face a new player — fake news.  At least we can all agree that we don’t want that. The advertising revenue that legitimate news sources so desperately need should not be shared with purveyors of outright lies.

This week, The New York Times reported that Google and Facebook now say they intend to choke off advertising revenue that has been helping to support the producers of fake news.

“Google kicked off the action on Monday afternoon when the Silicon Valley search giant said it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Hours later, Facebook, the social network, updated the language in its Facebook Audience Network policy, which already says it will not display ads in sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.” Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites

At least we can agree on what we don’t want and work to snuff it out.  It’s a good start.

Grounding our now in then

Who owns your local newspaper? Why should you care?

This morning, I was preparing a diatribe of a post.

It was sparked by news in the local daily about the efforts of one newspaper chain (Gannett) to buy another (Tribune Publishing).

Although Tribune resisted Gannett’s initial offer, the concluding quote of the story predicted eventual success for Gannett because the deal offered such a great return on the investment Tribune’s largest shareholder had made in that company just three months ago. Surely that shareholder, as well as Tribune’s other shareholders, would reach for the money and sell.

And so I began to write this post: Buy. Sell. Make money. Who is minding the long-term effect of such transactions on the communities served (a questionable verb) by the newspapers so traded?

Taking a break from my breathless drafting to search for a fact or two, I stumbled on a treasure, a three-part series from the American Journalism Review archives on the state of the American newspaper.

The articles, written by Mary Walton and published in May 1999, glued me to my screen from the first sentence to the last. Walton did a marvelously thorough job, presenting both broad picture and detail in a masterful fashion. Yes, her piece was written 17 years ago, but many of the players remain active on the giant monopoly board of American journalism.

Whatever I could have written for you pales in comparison — read on, and enjoy, Walton’s articles: “The Selling of Small-Town America.”

The benefit of controlling distribution

Traditional print newspapers own their own circulation pipe.

“Disrupt” seems too benign a word to describe the effect of the internet on the news business. Of the synonyms offered up by Sisson, “shatter” would have my vote.

Say it out loud. Shatter. The word implies an exclamation point, sounds like breaking glass. Shatter. Shattered.

Well. We’re here to pick up the pieces.

Today’s post is about the benefit of owning one’s own distribution pipeline.

In the traditional newspaper model, the paper is distributed from the press to the subscriber by the newspaper’s carrier.

The traditional newspaper model distribution system

The actual distribution system is quite complex — think thousands of papers that must be hand delivered to thousands of homes every single day.

But, if one takes the two-mile-high view, the traditional print model is simple and direct. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That’s the traditional model — and the newspaper owns the line. It can control what the paper looks like, when it arrives and the costs associated with the distribution system, and it can exploit its daily contact with readers by showering them with excellent customer service to keep them happy.

Alas. In an article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Emily Bell points out that this is no longer so.

“… Two significant things have already happened that we have not paid enough attention to:

“First, news publishers have lost control over distribution.

“Social media and platform companies took over what publishers couldn’t have built even if they wanted to. Now the news is filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable. …”Facebook is eating the world

The title of Bell’s article refers to Facebook, but to illustrate her point, we’ll use Google News, because we discussed it in an earlier post (see The new gatekeepers).

One version of the Internet distribution system

1-Google News crawler is sent to paper’s web server to search for news. 2-Crawler returns with news links for Google News search engine. 3-Reader clicks on browser bookmark for news.google.com; fetch command sent to Google. 4-Google News server sends Google News home page (with search box). 5-Reader types in search term; fetch command sent back. 6-Google News algorithm spins, search results are sent back to reader. 7-Reader clicks on headline, sending fetch command to newspaper server for story. 8-Newspaper server sends story to reader’s computer.

All the pipes are owned by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The Google News search algorithm is a series of computerized decisions that only Google controls. How the news appears when it’s delivered is subject to the browser settings on the reader’s equipment and on that equipment’s capabilities.

And that’s a vastly simplified version of what’s happening.

(At least, I think it’s what’s happening. If you know better, please comment.)