Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The day Maureen Dowd wrote f--- news and a revered political commentator didn't get the joke

Amid all the debate about what is true and what is f--- news, I am reminded of a remarkable journalistic moment that showed how hard it is to know when someone is kidding or serious. And how you can be sincere but spread false information.

Dowd (Fred R. Conrad photo, New York Times)
It was early in 2009, the first months of the Obama presidency, and Maureen Dowd, the sly and witty New York Times columnist, put tongue in cheek to describe how she had gained exclusive access to classified testimony of a supposedly secret meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In the scene created by Dowd, Democrats on the committee, led by Dianne Feinstein, are grilling former Vice President Dick Cheney about the torture methods he and President George W. Bush approved to interrogate terrorism suspects.

Dowd dropped hints all through the column that it was a put-on. The first clue should have been that a columnist was playing the uncharacteristic role of an investigative reporter writing about leaked information.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How quality content can win in the long run

Digital advertising is broken for many publications.
Back in the days when my job was persuading advertisers to spend money with our business publication, I would talk about the importance of a client's ad appearing next to credible, high-quality content. Editorial environment matters, was the argument.

Google, Facebook, and Yahoo pretty much destroyed that business model. They promised advertisers to deliver their ads to specific demographic groups with little waste -- for example, female executives in Baltimore who have searched for information about luxury automobiles in the past year. And their prices were much lower. 

But the importance of high-quality, credible content has just resurfaced in a big way. Some major advertisers in England pulled their ads from Google and YouTube because their ads were placed next to content of extremist organizations promoting hate speech.

Among those pulling ads were French advertising giant Havas, the BBC, the UK government, and The Guardian newspaper. The Times of London first broke the story (paywall). 

What this means is that digital publications can compete with Google, Facebook, YouTube and the rest by relying on a relationship of trust and confidence rather than scale -- totals of eyeballs. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Winning digital strategy: Think first of the community you serve, not the audience you sell to

You already know the story well -- how the business model for traditional media collapsed in the U.S. (Pew: State of the News Media 2016).

And how digital advertising's market share surpassed print and will overtake television this year.

And how media organizations have responded by cutting staff and weakening their products in order to keep profit margins high -- newspapers eliminated 20,000 jobs in 20 years, a 39% decline in employment.

All of this has been done to serve advertisers and investors at the expense of the most important people in the media equation -- the public, the readers, the users. But now publishers are rediscovering the importance of focusing on serving readers.

Readers, viewers rule

Now that digital media have broken up that arranged marriage of advertising and news content, publishers are realizing once again that their business is a public service and that the most important people in the equation are not the investors and the advertisers but the public.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Investor sees 'great returns' from new digital media

Vucinic, photo by Ted.com
Many media investors see disaster everywhere they look, as traditional media lose audience, revenues, and relevance.

Sasa Vucinic, co-founder and co-managing director of North Base Media, sees great investment opportunities, especially in developing markets, such as Central Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America.

"We invest in serious digital-only media oriented toward the younger audience that can disrupt their markets. And we think it’s a phenomenal business that will bring great financial returns."

Vucinic, who began his journalism career in Serbia, has been a crusader for media organizations that tell the truth about corrupt, oppressive regimes. I reached him via Skype in South Korea, where he was looking at investment opportunities. I wanted to ask him about social purpose investing, where investors direct their money toward organizations that not only give a financial return but also have a positive impact on society. 

Versión en español

Vucinic said he no longer talks about social impact with investors. "I spent 16 years trying to prove to investors that a media company has a two pronged nature: It is a business that will be sustainable and profitable, if possible, and at the same time it provides an incredibly important role in the society," he told me. "I actually think that if you do not understand that media plays an important role in society, you're not very likely to invest in it anyway."

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A voice for free speech in a free world

Marty Baron, center, with U. of Navarra faculty and students. Photo by Manuel Castells

Marty Baron, editor of the Washington Post, came to speak at University of Navarra events in Madrid and Pamplona last week.

Baron's message made me proud to be an American and a journalist. The whole world looks to the U.S. for leadership. Here is an excerpt from his speech in Madrid.

"At the center of our mission is journalism that holds powerful institutions and individuals accountable. We have an obligation to speak truth to power. And the powerful in our world should never be allowed to suppress it.
For all the challenges we face in the media today, this is the greatest. It is why we as journalists must stay faithful to our central purpose. Someone must still tell things as they really are.
No government power, no powerful institution, and no powerful individual should have the right to stop us. And we in the press should not stop ourselves because of fear or self-censorship. These are times to remind ourselves what it means to be a free people, times to think hard about what is required of us if we wish to hold on to the freedoms that we value.
In too many countries, in too many ways, our liberties are being placed at risk. Among those most in jeopardy are free expression, including a free press. For those of us who work in the press, and for all who cherish the free expression that gives meaning and life to our democracies, the quality we now need most, is courage."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How digital media monetize their social capital

From GDJ's Clipart, Openclipart.org
Lately I have been reading a lot about a new way of valuing media that would benefit entrepreneurial journalism ventures, which nearly always lack capital to launch and sustain themselves.

Sociologists and economists have been writing about it for years -- social capital -- and I am embarrassed to say that I have just started learning about it. 

Social capital is a value that media entrepreneurs possess through their ethnic, social, professional, and business networks. It is also a value that they create through their work's impact on societyBelow I will show how three entrepreneurs are making it work, in FranceHolland, and Spain.

Versión en español

Hard to value

Investors, the public, and the media entrepreneurs themselves have tended to undervalue their work because it is hard to place a value on their social capital. By contrast, it is easy to value a publication through the advertising and subscription revenue it generates and the capital assets it owns. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Honeymoon at the Washington Post: what's next?

Executive Editor Marty Baron interviews Post owner Jeff Bezos. (Washington Post photo)

Note: Marty Baron will be speaking here at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, on Jan. 26.

The Washington Post is following the strategy of world domination of its owner, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer.

In contrast with most of the newspapers in the U.S. and Europe, the Washington Post is hiring journalists and engineers, investing in new technology, and expanding into new markets. Bezos has  global ambitions for the Post, as Newsweek detailed in a recent analysis. 

In the same way that he built the business of Amazon, Bezos has committed to absorbing financial losses in the short term with an eye toward gaining market share over the long term. It's a strategy that requires an owner with deep pockets.