Category Archives: Journalism

Thoughts about the near future of news distribution based on some trends

Thoughts about how and what will change in news distribution in the next 10 years, by extrapolating some movements that are happening right now.

Let me know how you think about this, and please correct me if you think my assumptions are wrong.

1. Display advertising revenues will keep fading.
Banner supported is not a sustainable business model for news websites. Pageview prices are declining, inventory goes up and banner blindness is very real. News “engagement” is shifting to social networks.

At the same time brands are looking for brand experiences involving customers. They are building their own or public platforms to connect with customers. Display advertising is not adding enough value, even when it’s cheap.

NGO’s are practicing, funding or hosting journalism. They not only hire journalists they are hosting and distributing the stories themselves.

2. Television will take revenge.
With internet enabled television sets, the tv becomes a more interesting medium. There is always something to watch. Social layers will make live events more interesting. Especially news and sports events. Television interfaces need to change. We need new interface thinking for televisions. We need what the iPhone interface did to the mobile interface design thinking of all mobile phones.

3. Mobile becomes the #1 internet device.
Phone users outnumber computer users. Technology fits in phones and the lifecycle of a phone is shorter compared to a computer. The phone is a personal device, most computers aren’t. It’s the #1 communication device and this makes it the best device to share news. Todays modern mobile phone can do most things a computer could do in 2007.

4. Serendipity redefined.
Serendipity was something that belonged to newspapers and magazines. Serendipity was about the stories you found by accident in newspapers and magazines, small surprises. The web brought a new kind of serendipity, you found stuff by browsing. Social networks enhanced this experience. You find stuff because of your network. The “new” serendipity isn’t captured in media, it’s in the people. This is serendipity on a completely new level, it’s personal.

5. Databases become public
I don’t want to go into a discussion of when or if we ever will get a semantic web. What you can see is that more information becomes public and it is more structured. When databases go public more people can combine information to make new information, more people can practice database journalism.

6. Information availability and accessibility explodes
The web is still growing and it will probably never stop. As interfaces, global coverage and search evolve more people get easy access to all of this information. More information is a good thing, all you need is good filters. Those filters can be computers or human.

7. The real time web, we are all continuously connected.
Continuously connected, sharing more and more personal information. Maybe for safety, for fun or for voyeurism. Sharing creates online existence. Everything you do is information, combine this with point 5 and 6.

8. News agencies will no longer lead the discussion
They will keep losing the signaling function, because everyone is a (re)broadcaster in his or her own network. And they will find it difficult to control, lead or own the discussion. Discussions become fluid, you can start them, but you can’t own or host them.

Conclusive thoughts:
News is and will be a more social experience.

Your (social) network will be important to help you make order out of information chaos.

News outlets will act like hubs for people sharing the same ideas.

The media- or informationlandscape polarizes, like magazines. More media will engage on the same level, making them working great together or strong competitors.

Information will be free. All you have to do is connect the dots instead of creating them.

News will be about guiding and analyzing, almost like a curator. If you’re a good curator, you add value.

Curators are often people.

The news eco system will be much more decentralized, making it stronger.

The system how news distribution works right now is just not made for the media of tomorrow. The traditional ecosystem for news will be disrupted.

The new eco system will inform us better.

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What a news organization looks like in a social media driven web

Social media is becoming a very influential referrer. Website like Facebook and Twitter generate growing amounts of traffic websites. They work best for the live web (news) and for memes. And they are in the race to become serious competition for Google in getting the right people on the right page.

Social media (Twitter/Facebook) is the new Google (making the web more useful with its service). It doesn’t care about page rank. It cares about what people think and how trustworthy and influential people are.

Google and Twitter are very different in a number of ways.

Google

  1. Longer URL, the longer the better
  2. Getting bigger websites to link to your website
  3. Know and find
  4. Authenticity
  5. Ranking content
  6. Optimization
  7. The best of time

Twitter

  1. Short URL, an URL is waste of space
  2. Getting influential online people to talk about your website
  3. Follow and discover
  4. Creativity
  5. Ranking people
  6. Lobbying
  7. The best of now

What does this mean for news reporting?
The major news websites and publication systems weren’t really designed for SEO. They are still catching up, far behind the current technological state blogs are in.

While media and journalist are still blaming Google the second disrupting innovation for their Industry is already taking place. And this time they won’t be able to blaim a company.

What about the editors? Google was about systems, about technology. The current wave of social media is about people. Are the news editors – the current and a new generation – ready?

The link
A news organization in a social media environment doesn’t have to create content, it creates context around links. It directs you. That’s the function of a news organization. Guide you as a customer to the best information you can find. Sometimes this mean (re)writing a summary or story, other times it means linking to other good stuff.

It’s also about value. If you – as a content creator – are not adding much to what’s already out there you can’t expect to have a sustainable business model. If you don’t add much, you won’t get much.

The link is the most important asset of the web. It is for Google and it is for Twitter. In a social media driven web it’s not about the content the link directs to. It’s about who presents the link. Linking builds trust. You have to earn this trust by linking to things that add value for your audience.

Jay Rosen, professor at NYU on the ethic of the link

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The Urban Explorers 2009 video interface

The Urban Explorers video interface (live report) from Wilbert Baan on Vimeo.

For the music and art festival Urban Explorers festival I made a special video interface. During the festival reporters uploaded video with their mobile phones. The video was categorized on artists, venues and makers based on the video title. The project used the Blip API.

Give it a try.

Video interface for the Urban Explorers festival 2009

The report was done by Eclectro.nl reporters. I was supposed to be a reporter as well, but missed the festival because of the birth of Benjamin.

The process of building the interface can be found here.

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Four fallacies about monetizing news online

The off- and online news markets around the world are under pressure. Newsmedia and press agencies feel the urge to find money, fast. As a result news companies are looking at alternatives to make more online revenues.

Although the money is needed the solutions aren’t always solutions. Ideas I’ve heard so far.
1. Find a model to pay for referral (for example charge Google)
2. Fight copyright infringement more actively (or pay for linking/embedding)
3. Charge your customers
4. Find some way to keep exclusive content exclusive.

These are all fallacies and in my opinion, and easy to deconstruct.

1. Pay for referral (for example charge Google)
Google directs a big portion of the online traffic. Probably not forever, but they are controlling it right now. Their business is to help people from point a to b without noise. This is key to Google. If they add noise or become less relevant a competitor will eventually take over their position.

There is no reason to pay. I think Google is good for almost 30/50% of the traffic to newspaper websites. And even more to some sections. News websites benefit from Google traffic.

If Google wants to be #1 the news provider, they can buy or create a press agency. Google is probably one of the few companies that can generate enough traffic to support the total costs of a press agency with online advertising.

A while ago I argued that online news is a freelance job in a network instead of a job in a company. You might like to read it, it relates to this subject.

Unlike paper hierarchy is less important online. Personal relevancy is much more important. For example. I read a few articles on the website of the New York Times almost every day. I almost never use the navigation or start at the homepage. I’m referred to the articles from blogs, search engines and social networks like Times People and Facebook. I love the NY Times. I don’t really care about the homepage or navigation structure.

Newsmedia should find hierarchy in design on the front-end for a large group of users. In the background they should put online as much information (enriched with metadata) as possible. New relevancy is not in owning the information. It is in what you can do with it. The web has no destinations, only stops.

2. Fight copyright infringement
Sure, people should respect fair use. And companies that aggregate and resell your complete data set should be stopped. This isn’t the biggest problem. Those companies that are mass copying your content are easier to find. The smaller infringements are readers with blogs, the long tail. Those readers are your fans. Just let them friendly know that what they do is not fair use, and suggest what they should do. They often don’t even realize what they are doing and if you just tell them you’re making friends (readers) for life.

3. Charge your customers
You have to make sure your content is worth it. What makes the thing you make more valuable compared to what your competitors do for free? People trust the brand and are willing to pay for derivations on the web. They might not want to pay for the things you offer on a daily base. Your brand or community creates value and this is value you can monetize. The brand of a newspaper is trust and openness. Find things that are close to your brand and with this you can make money. For example Nike is about the running experience. And they sell a lot of stuff around this experience, including shoes. If your newspaper is good in certain subjects, for example healthcare. Why not start a health insurance, the web makes it easy to do so. Or start a bank. The banking business could use some trust. Make sure the things you do live up to your brand standards.

Is this still transparent journalism? I think it can be, I don’t know. As long as you give access to all the numbers and all of your information, if you make yourself controllable. If you create a community and if you keep close to your brand it can be very transparent. In the long run your brand is about the truth and transparency. You can only benefit if you will always respect this.

4. Find some way to keep exclusive content exclusive.
You can’t. The web is for sharing. The only thing to keep something exclusive is to charge people for it. That’s why there is no real online business model for mass information, like news. The news will get out anyway, because people will tell it and someone will amplify the story or make a summary.

There is something the web is very good in and that’s in creating communities. Newsmedia should realize that you shouldn’t do research on your own attic. Share the information. Create a process instead of creating a moment. In a live storytelling environment the process is much more relevant and interesting. It also generates authority and creates an expert role. In a process the product (or publication moment) is less important. It’s about what’s going on. Share data with your readers and setup communities to discuss and analyze.

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When media become brands and brands become media

Clay Shirky is someone to follow. He has a very clear way of explaining what’s going on. He takes some distance and describes what’s happening, why it’s happening and what the consequences are. If you like to know what social media really means you should definitely read his book Here Comes Everybody.

Last friday he wrote a very interesting post on his blog about the future of newspapers. The post had this great quote in it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.

The main idea of his story. There is no need for newspapers, there is need for journalism.

Newspapers are like shoes
I think the most powerful asset newspapers have is engagement. Newspapers are a brand. And some brands you like because those brands extend your personality, others you don’t. It’s personal and changes.

You might not like it, but all journalism is branded, simply because of the medium that tells it. As soon as you are communicating you are “branding”.

Shirky; News is always subsidized: The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident.

Being a brand is difficult for news media, because it touches the concept of objectivity, but branding has value. In Europe newspapers are selling books and DVDs, why? The can only sell this because they are a brand and this brand value is transportable. It’s like stitching a Nike logo on a pair of sneakers or a t-shirt. The logo increases the value of the t-shirt.

Branding doesn’t tell news media to less objective, on the opposite, news media derive value and consumer trust from being objective. It’s the base of their existence. That news media is left, right, “in the middle” or local doesn’t really makes a difference. It tells you something about the focus and focus adds value.

Get connected
Branding is evolving in something more sophisticated and difficult to grasp. Brands want to be your friend, brands want to connect to you, not just for one purchase, for your entire life. Just like newspapers.

Brands relies less on buying ads in media, they are media, and some brands (like Apple) even orchestrate the media.

News media should focus on engagement. Connect readers with the thing that bounds them. The news brand as a place for truth, values, discussion, opinion, investigation, news.

This is where added value is.

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What will happen to news publishers? A guess based on what’s happening right now

The financial crisis speeds up the newspapershift. Media diverges. Newspapers become television, television becomes a press agency. And everything becomes the web. Probably not a single news websites makes enough revenue to employ the same amount of journalists traditional media like newspapers and television employ. The result is a shift. Not in demand, in distribution. What will happen, and how will this shift change organizations?

Here are some ideas and thoughts that I think make sense. Please help me sharpen this concept, or point me at my fallacies. It would be interesting to have a discussion about this.

Infinite
It all starts with information. Information is and will be infinite accessible everywhere. All smart devices will be connected. This is different to old media where the medium was not infinite and thus choices and timeframes were necessary.

In a connected culture information is directly online accessible, mass media and press functions less as a generator and more as a directional and filter service.

In a connected culture distributed services like Google and Facebook are the new mass media. To reach a mass audience you need to distribute your content through these new mass media. If old media no longer controls the medium it will change our organizations, how newspapers work and what kind of people will be working at newspapers or directional services.

Online you need more websites or less people. Link or syndicate the information that is already out there and focus on the value you can add.

The new rules of information?
I think the expertise journalists have is valuable. The traditional structure of a newspaper is restraining them from using their full online potential. Here is a paradox, because you need the traditional structure to publish a newspaper.

The newspaper is a middle man, this is where you already see a shift. Press agencies have become influential distributers on the live web, and consumers have become influential fire starters. To adapt to the new rules of information (everyone is a publisher), a newspaper should shift up or down the chain. Become a networked company or focus.

To be profitable in a hyperlinked economy you not only need to distribute your information, you should also distribute your costs.

What could the newspaper of the future look like?
Newspapers are in a race. I don’t believe paper is sacred. And I see no real advantages in paper compared to modern media. Even when e-readers become mainstream we probably want books and maybe magazines on these devices, we don’t want newspapers. We want something tailored to the medium. We want news as it happens. News is not a book, it is all about now, about relevancy, about why and what is happening. This consuming pattern is irreversible.

A modern news organization might not have that many people on the payroll. Journalism could become primarily a freelance job. Everything a journalist does can be done virtual. Journalists don’t have to work together in the same building at the same time. News very rarely happens in the building of a news organization, news happens somewhere else or is made by investigating. Being a reporter is a networked job. Your value is in your knowledge and your personal offline and online network. A journalist should feel at home in a networked culture.

If this shift happens journalists will work primarily on a free marketplace, like photographers. They will connect through online organizations (agencies) or virtual marketplaces that connect distribution channels (newspapers, search engines, social networks) and journalists.

These organizations act like press agencies distributing articles or information to all outlets. You can subscribe to specific feeds of information, buy articles, ask for research, or set assignments. If we can have public funded journalism, we can also have research or stories payed by media portals. If you want exclusive news or research the price will be higher. If you’re a very good and trustworthy journalist your value will be higher.

The focus of a news publisher is how they sort information and on what news topics they focus. What news publishers can add to the knowledge and information that is already out there is focus and a filter. This focus and filter is their revenue model, the rest is a mix of syndicated, linked and original information.

Like a group blog. You can’t pay the salary of a hundred bloggers to write content, but you can make money with a group blog. You need to invest your money smart and use it for those things that really set you apart from others. Use money to create unique value that defines your brand.

News is free
I think news (defined as what’s happening right now) will always be free for the consumer. This doesn’t mean news has no value. For end-users it will be free. News will always atract people. By presenting, sorting, linking and packaging the news websites, search engines and networks can make money that funds new journalism and drives new traffic.

Where Attention Flows, Money Follows.

This blog post was also published on the online journalism blog, there are some interesting comments you might like.

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Analyzed what Twitter votes (graphic)

Based on Twitterpoll by Erik Borra I made this visualization. The animation is created form filtering tweets on content. If someone says he or she voted for Obama or McCain this information is stored and turned into numbers. This creates an election poll based on tweets.

You can say Twitter is pretty much in favor of Obama. To update the results refresh the page.

A point goes to Obama if the regular expression /vote.*?obama/i succeeds, it goes to McCain if the regular expression /vote.*mccain/i succeeds, else it is undecided / unrecognized.

The animations that led to this animation
1. http://www.hypernarrative.com/wordpress/2008/11/02/i-voted-storytelling-with-public-databases/
2. http://www.hypernarrative.com/wordpress/2008/11/03/we-say-twittertalk/

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We Say, twittertalk

A second version of the first experiment. In this window you can sort Twitter messages on certain words. Try to work with two words or use the more obvious words like McCain / Obama if you want to use more words. Otherwise you won’t get any results.

Another great polling service
Erik Borra created a polling service based on what people say on Twitter. With the service you get results on what people say they voted on Twitter. I’m trying to make a bar graph for this.

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