Friday, December 28, 2012
If you have not seen it, consider reading Gulfnews.com for inspiration. It was recently named the top English newspaper online at the Forbes Middle East’s Top Media Online in the Arab World awards ceremony.
The site is a very functional, well-designed news site. What is inspiring is how the publication (which boasts both print and online editions) operates. Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News, said the publication's core philosophy is innovation and evolution.
Gulf News covers the politics and economics of this region well, but it also employs standard readership-building tools. A "Friday" section feature highlights four readers who changed their lives for the better in the past year. One of the "fab four" quit smoking. Another lost 52kg. Taking nothing away from their achievements, these are real people accomplishing ordinary things. These are not politicians or diplomats or the filthy rich.
One of the readership tools I describe in "Reclaiming Your Readers" is Gannett's "Real Life, Real News" concept. While the project has been long gone, the idea remains relevant. Real Life, Real News attempted to eliminate the disconnect between readers and their newspapers by focusing on information that assisted readers with living their everyday lives as well as highlighting real people stories. This idea of real people doing real things is still worth pursuing. Gulf News thought so.
SIDE NOTE: Quality is also paying off for the New York Times, as digital subscriptions are growing faster than ad revenue is falling. The reason the New York Times paywall appears to be working to some degree is that people are willing to pay for quality content. A newspaper does not have to be the New York Times...it just has to be the New York Times for its coverage area.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic writes that four things will happen to newspapers if their digital advertising growth continues to lag:
- They will erect paywalls to force online subscriptions (already started)
- They will discover their content is not unique and valuable enough to justify digital subscriptions (remains to be seen but likely)
- They will continue to cut staff and/or publishing frequency of the print edition (already happening)
- They will die (R.I.P. Rocky Mountain News, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, et al.)
While this is not a solution, per se, it does point out that newspapers have not been hurt because Google outright attacked them. They've been hurt because Google provides a tool that is more useful to readers for getting their information they seek.
The broad answer is newspapers and other publications struggling to build readership must innovate. They need to prove themselves more useful than their competition (and understand who their competition truly is).
A report from Tow Center for Digital Journalism, presents some innovative ways to "create useful journalism" in an effort to prevent further decay of news products across the country.
The essay/manifesto starts with five core beliefs:
- Journalism matters.
- Good journalism has always been subsidized.
- The internet wrecks advertising subsidy.
- Restructuring is, therefore, a forced move.
- There are many opportunities for doing good work in new ways.
"More people will consume more news from more sources. More of these sources will have a clear sense of their audience, their particular beats or their core capabilities. Fewer of these sources will be 'general interest'; even when an organization aims to produce an omnibus collection of news of the day, the readers, viewers and listeners will disassemble it and distribute the parts that interest them to their various networks. An increasing amount of news will arrive via these ad hoc networks than via audiences loyal to any particular publication."This serves as a logical jumping off point for thoughts on innovation. One can already see that news consumption is moving toward the "ad hoc networks" the report mentions. How can news and information organizations deliver news knowing readers will disassemble it? How can these organizations and businesses take advantage of the additional digital circulation that comes from news aggregators and social network distribution?
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
In the book "Race for Relevance", a book outlining five radical changes for associations, authors Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers note some challenges to the way associations communicate member benefits. Every association, they say, suffers from low member awareness of many of its programs and services. Each program attracts the same core audience, a fraction of the membership. Programs see little growth despite vast potential. To
The cause: associations try to do too much, which causes communication problems, Byers and Coerver say. It's simply hard to communicate a extensive, complex menu of programs and services. It's a question of clutter. Clutter diminishes the effectiveness of any type of communication.
Still, until associations (and newspapers) pare down their content offerings (as the authors suggest) they will be challenged with having to increase member awareness of marginal programs in the hope that participation will grow. Here is how we plan to do this in the coming year at American Dental Hygienists Association:
- Continue deliving information across all platforms. There is no mass medium, but a mass audience still exists if you are willing to relinquish your reliance on one or two platforms.
- Present benefits in digestible chunks of information. There is no need to present all benefits and services in one package. After absorbing the first few, readers will become numb to the rest, particularly if they are not relevant to them. Highlight only two or three in any given publication.
- Establish a consistent schedule for promotion. Benefits should be a standing feature in all possible promotions. Consistent placement and look-and-feel will help.
For example, the median open rate for nonprofit e-newsletters is roughly 14% (according to the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study). So even if your newsletter has an exceptional open rate of 25%, you are still only reaching a quarter of your total newsletter audience...and, depending on your association, your newsletter audience might be a quarter of your total membership. "A couple times" in the newsletter won't do squat and people need to know that it takes a comprehensive, integrated communications effort to help any program or service. You can't cut corners in communications, not with fragmented audiences and ridiculous competition for readers' mindshare.
Coerver and Byers make a great point about simplicity: Compare any association's home page to Google's home page. It's an apples to cumquats comparison, but the point is the simpler you make your information the more effective your communication will be.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
The line between advertising and editorial content is pretty fuzzy to readers. The Readership Institute long ago showed that advertising content also played a role in building readership. Readers assigned a high value to advertising content. The point is that all content adds value to a publication. And when you add value to your brand, that is marketing.
Marketing is not a dirty word. It's an objective for all communication teams. At associations, in particular, you need to balance the need to give your audience the practical, relevant information they want and the information about your products and services that they need. If you believe in the products and services your association (or information company) provides, then you should have no problem tailoring a message to your audience that doesn't sound like flat-out selling.
In her Content Marketing Manifesto, Bussoloti argues that top brands are embracing the content-as-marketing concept and are moving into the content business, which just means even more competition for your audience's mindshare. Publications are going to have to lead the way--as they should, being the experts at content for their audiences--or get left behind.
What is also important to realize is that part of content is actually the conversation that surrounds it. Social media platforms provide the tools an audience can use to carry on these conversations. Content providers need to play a role in these conversations, too--starting them, facilitating them, providing the tools to have them.
Wondering how to start? Download Bussoloti's manifesto first and then stay tuned for my book, Reclaiming Your Readers, whenever it gets published.
Friday, October 05, 2012
The survey was conducted by Michael Jenner, the Houston Harte Chair in Journalism at the University of Missouri.
I'm not sure how else a newspaper publisher would respond but to be optimistic about their own futures (although 4 percent apparently were not afraid to show their pessimism). However, these people are not crackpots. There are reasons for optimism. Driving this brighter outlook is the rise in digital publishing and the potential for new revenue. A full 90 percent of survey respondents expect increases in digital revenues next year.
The survey points out a key point in newspapers' decline that does not get much attention: the decline in resources. More than 40 percent of publishers saw staff and budget cuts as a threat to readership.
True--it becomes hard to innovate when you struggle even to put out "the daily miracle." Unfortunately, newspapers are in a position where they must work not only harder, but smarter. Efficiencies, relevance and innovation are the ways to prosperity. New thinking must emerge. It might pay to take a look at Inland Press Association's Executive Program for Innovative Change (EPIC). [full disclosure--I worked at Inland for 13 years]
Incidentally, Jenner did fabulous work at The Bakersfield Californian before joining UM. [full disclosure--shameless plug for book forthcoming] He features prominently in my book "Reclaiming Your Readers: Proven Methods for Reader-Focused Writing," which I hope is published by Marion Street Press very soon.
Friday, September 21, 2012
While this is heartening, it is also a little sad. This is not just the past of newspapers, but also its future. These are the guys who still buy newspapers. They exceed my age by a good 20 years.
But that's newspapers. I don't know what newspapers will be called once they evolve to the point of sustainability, but they will survive. The need for information will always exist.
Jeff Jarvis makes a brilliant point that the news media must stop shrinking and reach a level of sustainability, after which the newspaper companies can begin to grow again. The question becomes how to reach that level.
Audience and readership do not seem to be the problem. While circulation is not growing, it isn't exactly falling off the cliff. The website audience shows growth. This is promising. The audience is there if news companies aggregate all their methods of reaching them.
Then the question becomes how to structure a business that works. Staffs have to slim down and streamline. As hard as that is to admit, that's the only way news companies can reach a level of sustainability. Digital advertising price points simply will not support the kind of staffing newspapers enjoyed in their heyday. So newspapers have to look for efficiencies and collaborations that make producing and delivering news more cost-effective. Maybe Digital First's Project Thunderdome is a first glance at an evolved news operation. It is touted as "new infrastructure that will serve hundreds of local newsrooms still burdened by inefficiencies borne of a bygone era in journalism."
The gentlemen have moved on to dissecting the sports page, noting the small errors and making a very big deal about them...as they should. Newspapers need to evolve--and they will--but they cannot forget the basics. Evolution means nothing without solid editing, strong writing, compelling headlines and clear design.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Journalism.co.uk reports that the decision to combine print and online readership into a single metric was made more than two years ago. Mike Ironside, CEO of the NRS, said maintaining a print-only survey was only going to result in tracking decline. The new report goes "where our audience has gone," expanding into digital realms. Of the survey, Ironside said:
"If I think about a quality newspaper in the UK, it will take their readership back to the level [of readers] that they used to produce in the year 2000. After more than 10 years of decline, this gives them back that audience."U.S. newspapers and Audit Bureau of Circulation keep moving toward a more comprehensive audience metric. As newspapers struggle to find a new business model, combined print-online readership is one possible solution. It would enable newspapers to sell in a "traditional" way--using a single big number to represent audience. For decades that number was circulation. For decades to come, perhaps that number is readership.