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October 2005


LEXINGTON, NC– Anyone who’s been on the silent end of a missed conference call with me knows that I have a severe case of time zone dyslexia. Throw a seasonal time change into the mix while I’m traveling, and I really don’t know what end is up.

Suffice to say that I’m mostly out of internet range for the next few days…

Online news data points

Newspapers aren’t a must-read, says the Chicago Tribune.

And Bill Gates:

Fortunately, the expertise of the press does not reside in their capacity to cut trees but to produce great articles that contribute to their solid reputation.  The quality of their Internet site is now crucial for press companies.  Formerly, the barrier to enter into journalism was very high for physical reasons: printing, distribution, etc.  This is no longer the case and publishing companies are competing more and more with online media.  In five years, we can estimate that 40 to 50% of people will read their news online. To conserve their readership, newspapers must develop their electronic approach.

Matching medium and message

Regular readers will remember that we plan to do all kinds of cool stuff with cell phone text messaging. And, of course, we’ll have email alerts. Big whup, you say? Lots of news outlets do it.

But I was reminded today how wrong most folks get the time-relevance continuum. I got several messages via SMS and email this morning, informing me of Harriet Miers withdrawal from consideration for the SCOTUS.

Now if I wasn’t a media guy (and therefore inherently interested in what other outlets were doing), that would be enough to make me unsubscribe post-haste. Ditto the messages I’ve been getting from my Daily Newspaper with scores of college football games I don’t care about at all.

We in media tend to think that the bigger the story, the more likely it should be instantly pushed. Actually, I would argue that the smaller and more personal is what should be instantly pushed.

Does Miers decision affect my life directly enough that I need an SMS message? Is there any different action I could have taken today as a result of that knowledge? I say no. And that means that instant messaging is the wrong medium.

But if my neighborhood crimewatch was having an emergency meeting? SMS me, baby! Or a restaurant on my way home had a one-day special? Sure. I don’t even care if it’s an ad.

Because it’s relevant.

Free dailies have negligible (and wrong) impact

Scarborough has done a study of free dailies in Dallas, NY, Chicago and Boston.

The high points:

  • "[W]hile they are attracting some hard-to-reach
    readers, including younger and minority, these are small gains that
    have had more to do with distribution strategies–such as giving papers
    away free in mass transit areas–than with the availability of
    alternative, free papers. The main effect has been that heavy newspaper
    readers simply read more
    , picking up the freebies in addition to their
    regular paid dailies."
  • Free dailies are simply a way to have more
    "touch points with existing readers and to increase brand mind share
    and loyalty among the existing base."
  • The minority readership impact was less pronounced in Dallas, where there is a less-developed mass transit system.
  • The overall impact of free dailies,
    meanwhile, remains relatively insignificant, with a total circulation
    of about 2 million; and with much of that readership coming from
    existing newspaper readers, the paper raises the question of whether
    the freebies have been worth the investment by their publishers, a
    combination of independents and existing major newspaper publishers in
    their metros.
  • In a final point, the paper raises the
    question of whether freebies can "directly monetize" their free daily
    audience from advertisers. "Existing advertisers might resist
    incremental pricing to reach mostly the same readers in markets like
    New York, Chicago, or Dallas. For some papers, this argument may be a
    barrier for some advertisers. In non-competitive markets, such as
    Dallas, the free dailies offer message frequency for advertisers for
    which this is attractive."

Touchy, touchy

So last week, Tim Rogers at The Frontburner (D Magazine‘s blog for those of you out of the loop), posted on a rumor story about Gina Miller leaving WFAA. He linked to Miller’s picture on the WFAA site.

After Miller left, and her picture was removed from the site, the image changed:

  1. Pretty innovative response for a company that used to sue bloggers (before they were called such) for deep linking to articles.
  2. I, for one, never tire of gossip. Or news. Or video. Weather, I’m kinda fair-weathered about. I hate traffic.
  3. There’s now a lot of really good WFAA refugees at KTVT. And I’ve talked to those guys — they get online.
  4. We’ve also heard gossip that some of the Neighbors papers didn’t get out last week because of some sort of staffing exodus. Would be interested to hear if anyone missed their Neighbors delivery this week…

The wisdom of the hybrid

Dan Gillmor highlights the money shot of a much-discussed Nicholas Carr post on MSM vs. "citizen journalism."

I’m all for blogs and blogging. (I’m writing this, ain’t I?) But
I’m not blind to the limitations and the flaws of the blogosphere – its
superficiality, its emphasis on opinion over reporting, its echolalia,
its tendency to reinforce rather than challenge ideological extremism
and segregation. Now, all the same criticisms can (and should) be
hurled at segments of the mainstream media. And yet, at its best, the
mainstream media is able to do things that are different from – and,
yes, more important than – what bloggers can do. Those despised "people
in a back room" can fund in-depth reporting and research. They can
underwrite projects that can take months or years to reach fruition –
or that may fail altogether. They can hire and pay talented people who
would not be able to survive as sole proprietors on the Internet. They
can employ editors and proofreaders and other unsung protectors of
quality work. They can place, with equal weight, opposing ideologies on
the same page. Forced to choose between reading blogs and subscribing
to, say, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Atlantic, and the
Economist, I will choose the latter. I will take the professionals over
the amateurs.

But I don’t want to be forced to make that choice.

Why we're not afraid of Yahoo!

One of the criticisms I most commonly hear as I’m evangelizing our business plan goes something like this:

Yahoo! is going to automate and aggregate local content from blogs and Yahoogroups and will therefore be able to deliver all the local content and search you could ever want — and without having to spend a dime.

Anyone who’s actually worked in a local media outlet knows that this is a pipedream — at least the part about not spending a dime. I’ve yet to see anyone aggregate local meaninfully, and seriously doubt that anyone can do so without putting human hands, eyes and ears to the task.

The fact is that getting comprehensive local events, news and information takes work and feet on the street. And anyone who’s ever subscribed to a Yahoogroup (only a relatively small percentage of which are local) knows that there’s a signal-to-noise problem that no algorithm can overcome.

And on the advertising front, there are hordes of local businesses who don’t do business on the web. The only way to really get to them today is in person.

Don’t get me wrong– Yahoo! has a tremendous audience and is doing a lot of smart things. I hope that we’ll eventually be a partner of theirs. And if they do a good job of aggregating local, we’ll help folks find that, and maybe remix it to serve more hyperlocal individual interests.

But unless and until they put content and advertising feet on the street, there’s a large part of the local market they’re going to miss. That’s not something I’ve seen in any discussion of their short-term plans. Nor, frankly, should it be.

In the meantime, we’ll happily serve that unserved market — and a byproduct will be better service for all local readers and businesses.

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