Thoughts on the economics of journalism
The economics of journalism are complicated. Other businesses operate with a simple formula: people pay for a good or service and the business charges a fair price for that good or service. But traditional ways to pay for journalism are not so simple. Sometimes consumers pay nothing for what they watch on commercial radio or television, or when they collect a free newspaper at the railway station. In prosperous times, these media companies thrive by selling advertising around the free content. In effect, advertising subsidizes news. One weakness of the subsidy system is that it hides the true cost of serious journalism.
Consumers often pay only a fraction of the cost of producing a newspaper or magazine. Advertisers have subsidized the cost of most serious newspapers for generations. The amount of paid advertising in a newspaper influences how much a consumer pays for that newspaper at the newsstand. In effect, a small group of customers subsidize the majority who pay little or nothing. With daily newspapers, a few advertisers pay for content so lots of consumers can get the newspaper cheaply. For the past decade this model became the revenue engine for all of the big web companies, such as Google and Facebook.
As of early 2012 advertising remains the main business model for 97 per cent of the world’s online news sites. In prosperous times, the business model is to build an audience around a popular site. The theory goes this way: Lots of users attract advertising, and those advertisements pay the bills. But that model has two big problems: the low price of online advertisements and small click-through rates. Plus sites like Facebook and Google have absorbed huge amounts of online advertising in the past few years.
Facebook’s advertising revenues in 2008 totalled about $300 million (US dollars). According to figures from eMarketer in January 2011 Facebook’s 2010 income from advertising alone, which excluded revenue from virtual currencies and other sources, came to $1.86 billion. The company’s total income reached $4.05 billion worldwide that year, the San Francisco-based Business Times web site reported. This year, worldwide advertising spend on Facebook is expected to reach $5.74 billion, up 42 per cent from 2011, eMarketer predicted. As of early 2012 Facebook had more than 800 million users, and about one million people visit the site each day.
In November 2003 then Tribune Company president Jack Fuller gave the keynote address at the annual conference of the Online News Association in Chicago. Perhaps the most stupid thing the American newspaper industry had ever done, Fuller told me, was to give away content for free on the web. With hindsight it is easy to argue he was right. But the Americans have an apt expression: You cannot put the toothpaste back into the tube once you have squeezed it.
Since the first online news sites of the early 1990s, newspaper companies have put content on the web for free, and continue to do so. Media companies around the world are looking to find new ways to connect content with advertisers, because that connection has been their main revenue source for several generations.
With traditional media, advertising remains an inefficient way to bring buyers and sellers together. The Internet introduces other ways for buyers and sellers to communicate. The future will see a range of business models to pay for journalism: for-profit and non-profit; amateur, professional and pro-am; market-driven; and subsidized.
Journalism in the Western Liberal tradition is a unique business in the sense that its product (news) provides a public good or service. Unlike other public-good activities such as education or scientific research, it is not protected from market forces by government support in countries like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia. (Many European governments subsidise newspapers.)
When a huge drop in advertising threatens the financial viability of the news business, the media’s public good role is also threatened. We encounter a paradox: People need news even if they are not willing to pay for it, to be able to function as citizens (for example choosing which party to vote for). But newsgathering is expensive, and becoming even more costly.
Another relevant issue is how people deal with the fire-hose of information that daily invades their lives. Academics have given this concept various names, such as information anxiety and data smog. In a world of excess information, people tend to look for sources of news and information that fit their information and lifestyle needs. That should be an opportunity for newspapers to offer content appropriate for audiences. Busy people in the A-B demographic need organised and compact newspapers designed to make their lives more manageable. Hence the size and shape of the Asian Wall Street Journal, for example.
Instead, newspapers have got fatter. The average number of pages in America’s newspapers tripled during the 20th century. The amount of network television news there ballooned 16 fold in the half century to 2000. In the past generation news has become a 24-hours-a day commodity on cable. Professor Robert Picard, of the Reuters Journalism Institute at Oxford University, said the world was “awash” with news and information. “In the twentieth century news organizations created a huge oversupply of news … and the consumption didn’t increase proportionately with the supply; in fact, it declined. In any industry when you have consumption declining while supply increases, that is a disaster.”
People who love news and journalism (journalists) had deluded themselves into believing that this was a widely held sentiment, Professor Picard said. “The reality is that the average member of the general public has never been highly interested in news and has never been willing to pay for it. Those most interested in news have always been the most economically, politically, and socially active members of the community.” This suggests a market for the quality end of the demographic spectrum.
The other problem is the existence of public service broadcasters such as the BBC, NPR, CBC and Australia’s ABC. Why would people pay for a commodity like news when they can get it free from the online sites of these organisations.
With traditional media business models, journalists provide desirable content and then someone sells access to that content. People consume media because of the perceived quality of the content, and/or it fits their wants and needs and lifestyle. In effect, media sells attention. Welcome to the attention economy. But news and information are no longer a scarce commodity. The Internet is the world’s largest photocopying machine. Meanwhile, busy people have limited time. Their attention is scarce. Some strategists believe “attention transactions” will replace financial transactions as the focus of the modern economy.
Illness and wine
An apology to regular readers of my wine column. On May 10 a visit to the doctor revealed a badly damaged knee after I slipped at work. My doctor said wine, anti-biotics and painkillers do not mix. So I have not tasted wine for far too long, and have therefore not been able to review wines. My wine column will re-appear in early June 2011.
Media business models need urgent attention
Australia’s mass media need to overhaul their business models if they are to survive.
Managers have neglected business models appropriate for the digital economy, such as de-bundling and re-bundling of content to cater for digital natives. An example of de-bundling would be isolating a single song from a CD, or a single article from a newspaper. Re-bundling involves selling collected pieces of de-bundled content on different platforms.
Professor Arne Krokan of Norway’s University of Science and Innovation said technologies to re-bundle newspaper content and enable micro-payments online or via mobile phones were available “but they have not been embraced”.
Professor Krokan, who consults to media groups in Scandinavia, told the first Australian meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers that newspaper companies around the world had been slow to benefit from the digital revolution.
In Australia media companies move dated content from newspapers and broadcast outlets to web sites. This is shovelling, not re-bundling.
Newspapers also refuse to de-bundle in the physical world. Why not sell separate sections? As soon as I buy weekend newspapers I discard the sports, recruitment, cars and real estate sections without opening them. Why not sell only the business or sports section to interested readers? Just as Apple sells single songs via iTunes.
A song can be replayed and enjoyed several times. Would this happen with single pieces of journalism? Perhaps the answer is a reflection of the quality of some newspaper writing. Or perhaps people perceive newspaper content as ephemeral, the sort of mindset that sees newsprint as wrapping paper for tomorrow’s fish and chips.
Much of the success in the digital world relates to perception as much as reality.
Professor Krokan said convergent technologies permitted new media services. It was important here to understand the whole picture or context. “We need to take into consideration a range of factors including available technologies, changing markets and consumer behaviours, the influence of geography (local is becoming highly popular because of its ability to provide unique content), consumers’ knowledge and competence, variations of culture, and digital business models.”
The main driving forces in the digital economy were convergent technolgies, changing consumer behaviour and deterritorialisation. In the last case, this is where multi-national companies sell into domestic markets. “Amazon sells more books in my country than the combined sales of the three largest Norwegian bookstores. The market is worth about $US 20 million.”
An example of convergent technologies is IPTV, or television available over fast broadband, which undermined the business model of commercial free-to-air TV networks.
European newspapers had started to offer services beyond news to align with changing consumer desires. One of the most popular sections of some papers is a weightwatchers’ club, for example.
Professor Krokan said another feature of digital services was the blurring of the roles of consumers and producers. Consumers were fast becoming producers of content. “In Norway, people take videos with their mobile phones and post them to newspaper web sites.”
Dr Axel Bruns of Queensland University of Technology said citizen journalism provided an example of this blurring of roles, for which he had coined the term “produsage”.
A variety of citizen journalism models had emerged, but “produsage” had some key characteristics. These included content generated by average citizens, limited editorial oversight, continuous updating, more comment and debate than in mainstream media, and multiple perspectives for stories, Dr Bruns said.
Some of the best-known examples included OhMyNews in South Korea, Kuro5hin, Plastic.com, and the Al Gore-funded Current TV. “We see constant and collaborative evolving of content,” Dr Bruns said.
Progressive media such as the BBC were adapting their business models to accommodate changing audiences, and this provided an example of “harvesting the hive” – taking advantage of the vast content that citizen journalists produced. But the long-term economic sustainability of this model remained a “significant question,” he said.
Professor John Hartley of QUT said the business model for broadcasting needed “a makeover”. “Broadcasting as we know it is over.” TV was heading into a post-broadcast phase, driven by the Internet. “Mass media do not last forever. Some simply go away.”
Young people were becoming “produsers” via Internet sites such as MySpace, Flickr and YouTube.
Australia needed faster broadband services to accommodate this change. “We must revise our view of creativity, and revise the broadcast model of creativity, which leaves the general public sprawled brainlessly on the couch.”
* Published in the Bulletin of the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association in January 2008.
Feature about seniors and the Internet
Journalist Eric Shackle, 88, of Ettalong on the NSW Central Coast, proclaims on his website that “Life begins at 80.”
Mr Shackle has now been a journalist for seventy years and is the creator of the world’s first multi-national e-book.
He’s the oldest reporter for Ohmynews, the groundbreaking South Korean online newspaper at the forefront of citizen journalism – and he urges seniors to go online.
“You will be read by countless Internet users around the world. And it’s a great way of letting your friends and relatives know you’re still alive,” he chuckles.
Like Mr Shackle, a surprising number of Australian seniors are taking to the digital age, replacing traditional retirement pastimes like golf or bowls with online gaming, digital imaging, genealogy and blogging.
But for seniors who missed the computer revolution in the workplace, there is a digital divide that is making a computer-free existence increasingly difficult.
“Every time you read an article or watch an ad there’s a web address,” says Tony Lenn, the technical co-ordinator at the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA), a not-for-profit peak body for Seniors and Technology.
“People who come to our clubs feel that if they don’t use email and the web, they are missing out.”
The seniors who do use the internet are keen and interested users, says publisher Kaye Fallick, who owns the website ‘About Seniors’ (www.aboutseniors.com.au).
“Older people get very bad press when it comes to technology. They are a fabulous audience to serve on the web, though – they are the web’s stickiest users, so they are happy to spend some time on a site.”
Mrs Fallick says that there is just no comparison between older web surfers and teens like her own sons who are looking for “instant gratification and the quick click.”
But the 2.6 million Australians aged over 65 are still the least likely group to use the internet, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Usage among adults aged between 20 and 54 averages around 45%, but usage drops to 28.6% for those aged 55-64 and then drops to less than 20% of those aged 65-74. The usage rate for Australians over 75 is around 3%.
The Senior Digital Divide is closing, however, with ABS figures showing that older people were the strongest growth group in home internet access between 1998 and 2003.
The proportion of over-55s who owned a computer and had internet access from home more than doubled, from 11% in 1998 to 23% in 2003.
“We seniors may start by dogpaddling, but it is not long before we are surfing the net with the best of them,” says Nan Bosler, who is the President of ASCCA.
She estimates that there are more than sixty member computer clubs around Australia, which have helped over 30,000 seniors learn to use a computer since 1998, with a further 20,000 seniors currently in training.
“I think seniors feel that they have to catch up, it’s almost forced on them,” says Tony Lenn.
Australian seniors were children in last century’s Depression, survived World War Two, raised families with the threat of Cold War and nuclear apocalypse hanging over their heads and watched the moon landing on TV.
Many had limited schooling. “Many of our older seniors have never been in the workforce. In their day it was inappropriate for a wife to work,” Nan Boswell points out.
Australia’s colonial history is littered with tales of explorers and settlers braving wild frontiers – a rendition of national identity at odds with today’s tech-driven world.
But some Australian seniors have grasped the new technologies with enthusiasm, becoming boundary-riders at the frontiers of the digital divide.
At 107, Olive Riley is believed to be the world’s oldest blogger. She is 12 years older than Spain’s Maria Amelia, the previous titleholder who dethroned Sweden’s Allan Lööf, 94.
Olive’s blog, www.allaboutolive.com.au gets about 10,000 hits a day and is ranked 6,800th among the world’s 75 million blogs.
Olive was born in Broken Hill on 20 October 1899 when Queen Victoria was still alive, yet now she is embracing 21st-century technologies.
These days, she lives in a hostel at Woy Woy, 80km north of Sydney.
Film-maker Mike Rubbo, 69, helps Olive publish her blog. He made a documentary, “All about Olive,” that screened on the ABC in February last year. “The film had a great effect on her. It seemed to pump life into her.”
Mr Rubbo said Olive’s blog was having a major impact around the world.
“It’s inspiring others to take more interest in their own old folks, to go out and record their stories before it’s too late.”
It was journalist Eric Shackle who first had the idea for Olive’s blog, after reading about Spain’s Maria Amelia.
He proof-reads Mr Rubbo’s transcriptions of conversations with Olive and Mr Rubbo posts them.
Mr Rubbo said the blog had done a lot for him personally. “It has forced me to master the business of posting text and photos, something I thought was beyond me at almost 70.”
Mr Shackle also continues to embrace life. “My GP has just certified that I’m fit to drive my car for another year. All drivers 85 and over in NSW have to present a medical certificate before having their licences renewed.”
A grove of olive trees grows near the railway station at Broken Hill. The first crop is expected in 2010.
Olive Riley says she plans to return to her birthplace to pick the first fruit.
Ken Thomas is 79 and retired from banking about twenty years ago. After two hip replacements, he says that he’s not that keen on golf any more and fiddling around with computers is his main hobby.
These days, Mr Thomas co-ordinates over a hundred seniors in his “Ripper” group – the Retired and Interested Persons Special Interest Group, which is a sub-group of the Melbourne PC Users Group.
The Melbourne PC Users group is the world’s second-largest computer user group, with around 9,500 members, with an average age of around 60.
“A lot of the fellows are interested in the technical side of computers. You used to be able to mend your own car, these days we’re trying out Windows Vista,” Mr Thomas says.
“It’s a bit of effort to keep up with all the new technology but you do have more time for it when you’re retired.”
Despite his keen interest in computers, Mr Thomas scoffs at mobile phones. “I think they’re an expensive con,” he says, although he admits that many of his ‘Ripper’ colleagues use a mobile.
However, while older people value the security that a mobile brings, most shy away from SMS because tiny keys and little screens available are difficult to use.
In the US, retailers were taken by surprise when a simple children’s mobile, the Firefly phone (www.fireflymobile.com) with five large keys including an emergency call button became popular with the elderly.
US mobile company GreatCall quickly commissioned Samsung to create the Jitterbug mobile (www.jitterbug.com), with a big keys, a large screen and loud audio.
Meanwhile, Japanese mobile company DoCoMo has released a new Seniors mobile with audio features like ‘Slow Voice’ and ‘Clear Voice’ that adjust sound levels and speed.
Mobile phone companies in Australia have been slow on the uptake, although mobile retail giant Fone Zone now offers a Seniors Card discount.
“The whole mobile world is geared towards young people, which I think is a mistake,” says Lyn Goodall, who is the President of the Melbourne PC Users Group.
“A lot of our members use a PDA with built-in mobile and that gives them a bigger screen,” she says.
Ms Goodall says that the Group’s members, many approaching retirement age, use technology to keep in touch with society.
“As we get older, we tend to lose social connection. Our families move away, our friends die and it’s very easy to become lonely.”
Social connection came in spades for retiree Robyn Rogers, 64, who registered with ‘Friends Reunited’ (www.friendsreunited.com.au) to find an old college friend.
A former stenographer, Mrs Rogers is a switched-on senior, using the internet for online banking, shopping, trading on eBay and making travel bookings.
Technology usually holds no fear for her, she is in regular email contact with friends and family and carries a mobile phone wherever she goes.
But Mrs Rogers was astounded when she received an email last year via Friends Reunited, from a half-sister she had never met and discovered her long-estranged father and two other half-siblings.
“A lot of older people are afraid of technology, they are frightened to try new things,” she says. “But there’s nothing to fear. Through the internet, I’ve gained a whole new family.”
* Written with freelancer Fran Molloy. Published in The Age and SMH on 11 May 2007
Newsroom of the future
Late in 2007 journalists at The Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun Herald and the Australian Financial Review moved into a new building dubbed the “newsroom of the future” on Sydney’s inner harbor. The papers are the flagships of Fairfax Media, Australia’s biggest and most integrated media group.
Phil McLean, Fairfax Media’s group executive editor and the man in charge of the move, said three quarters of the entire process involved getting people to “think differently” – that is, to alter their mindset so they were willing to work with multi-media. Fairfax media had moved from being a newspaper company to an integrated media company, McLean said.
Weekly training courses were introduced as part of the move. The author facilitated two-day multimedia courses from July to December of 2007. Each course involved introducing journalists to a portable digital assistant (PDA) called a JasJam, made by iMate. The rival Murdoch-owned The Australian reported on 23 August 2007 that all Fairfax journalists would be equipped with JasJams. The misleading report speculated on the high cost, given Fairfax employs about 800 journalists on its Sydney daily newspapers and each JasJam costs about $US1100.
Only reporters and photographers involved with breaking news used the device, McLean said. “That’s somewhere between a dozen and 20 reporters at The Sydney Morning Herald and another 15-20 at The Age [in Melbourne, the other major city].” A pool of about 70-80 JasJams would be made available for specific assignments.
All reporters at the Brisbane Times, the online-only daily launched in March 2007 in Australia’s third-largest city, were equipped with the JasJam from the start. The issue was not the technology, McLean emphasised, but preparing journalists for new ways of providing information to audiences. “It’s the JasJam today, but it could well be a different piece of equipment tomorrow,” said Mike Van Niekerk, editor-in-chief of Fairfax Digital, the company’s online arm. McLean said the JasJam was likely be “superseded within the next 12 months” by other technologies.
Australia’s next biggest media company, Murdoch’s News Ltd, has also embraced the multimedia future, though at the time of writing the embrace had been less well developed. The Australian is the company’s Sydney flagship.
In a speech to mark the death of a famous journalist, Andrew Olle, on 19 October 2007, News Ltd CEO and chairman John Hartigan said it had never been a better time to be a journalist. “If you really care about journalism you have to be passionate about re-inventing it in the digital age,” he said. “As journalists we’ve never had more inducements to open our minds, stretch our imaginations or reach more people. We can write, blog, broadcast audio and video, all from the one work-station.”
Hartigan said that for much of his 43-year career most journalists were generalists, “sweeping over any subject with a light dusting of curiosity and a nice turn of phrase”. But he warned that those days were numbered. Journalism needed more specialists, he argued – “more people who can provide compelling insights to what’s going on” because quality was “taking on greater meaning, not less”.
Hartigan said competition for talent was intensifying. “We will need to pay more and offer better opportunities to attract – and retain – the best people”. In other words, quality content was the key. In a world of information overload, audiences return to brands they can trust that synthesize information and make it easy to absorb. That deep skill requires highly skilled and educated journalists. The obvious place to find specialists is at universities and think tanks.
What does Fairfax Media’s move mean for the journalism curriculum in Australia? It means educators have to become more relevant. The industrial-age curricula devised in the 1970s are no longer useful. The key is preparing students for a multimedia future, which means adapting the mindset of teachers so they help their students embrace change.
Mike Van Niekerk, editor-in-chief of Fairfax’s online editorial staff, said newsroom integration depended on changing a newsroom’s culture and mindsets. McLean agreed: Much of Fairfax’s training, instead of teaching journalists specific tricks, aimed “to recalibrate the way people think about journalism”. Training all journalists in multimedia did not mean an end to specialization. “We don’t expect everybody to practice it [multimedia], but everybody must think” in those terms, they said.
The new newsroom symbolised the culmination of a series of major changes at Fairfax. In August 2006 the traditional newspaper company, John Fairfax Ltd, changed its name to Fairfax Media to reflect its multi-platform future. In March 2007 Fairfax launched Australia’s first online-only daily publication in Queensland, brisbanetimes.com.au. In May 2007 Fairfax completed its merger with Rural Press to become the biggest media company in Australasia, with annual revenues of about $A 2.5 billion and market capitalisation of about $A 7 billion.
Two months later Fairfax got even bigger when it acquired at least one radio station in all capital cities and several television studios when it bought Southern Cross Television. Laster this year Fairfax is expected to bid for one of the two digital television licences made available by the changes to media ownership laws promulgated last year.
The aim in moving Fairfax from a print to a multi-platform company was to reach as large an audience as possible. “We have a total readership in print of over 4 million per day and online of over 5 million per month,” CEO David Kirk said at the time of the Rural Press merger. “Our brand of quality, independent, balanced journalism will serve and support more communities than ever”.
Chairman Ron Walker wrote that Fairfax was “evolving into a truly digital media company” in the 2006 Fairfax annual report. Within five years Fairfax would be a significantly bigger Internet company that distributed its content “over more media,” Kirk wrote in the same report.
Kirk developed a three-pronged strategy. The first part of the strategy involved the need to “defend and grow our newspaper publishing businesses” – that is, to consolidate and develop the existing newspapers, whose circulations were holding steady during the week and improving at weekends. The second part involved plans to “accelerate the revenue and earnings of our digital business”. The third part was “to build a digital media company for the twenty-first century”.
Fairfax Media’s embrace of multimedia and its use of the JasJam marks the start of major changes to how journalists work in Australia. The process reflects major changes in newsroom practices around the world. In November 2006 Ifra, the international media research company, asked newspaper executives worldwide about their priorities for 2007 and 2008. The survey attracted 240 responses from 43 countries and results appeared in January 2007.
Integration, editorial convergence and cross-media strategies attracted the most attention. Four in five executives rated it one of their top priorities, and half made it their main priority in terms of allocating “significant” funds.
It seems a likely future for journalism is evolving in Australia. The newsroom of the future has been re-named the “newsroom for now”.
Written for the Convergence Newsletter at the University of South Carolina in the United States in March 2008.
Transition to multi-media
This article originally appeared in the 2008 edition of Innovations in Newspapers published for the World Association of Newspapers by Innovation International.
It’s important to recognize from the start that the transition to a multimedia newsroom is a change management process, and INNOVATION believes change is a holistic process.
These 14 recommendations are not a formula that can be followed step-by-step, like instructions for building a model airplane. Yet they need to be embraced as a group, and INNOVATION believes the first is the most critical. Without management buy-in, any hope of introducing successful integration is doomed.
1. Get management buy-in
Without support from the top, adoption of multimedia newsgathering by a newspaper cannot succeed. Reporters must see that editorial managers believe in what they are proposing. This means managers must do as they say, and attend training courses. They cannot say they are too busy. They must explain why change is needed, what needs to be changed, and how the process will unfold. Individuals also need to know what is in it for them and what they will gain from the experience. Managers need to introduce milestones and clear benchmarks of success.
Convergence pioneer Gil Thelen of the Tampa Tribune often pointed out that his integrated newsroom was an extension of his work in team building and change management. “This really is a huge change process that’s got a multimedia ribbon on it,” he said. Similarly, Ifra’s Kerry Northrup believes a boardroom mandate is needed for any “serious convergence conversion” of a media operation. The introduction of multimedia newsgathering is not about saving money. It must be seen as an investment in the future. A converged newsroom is a way to reach more of those scattered audiences that are the result of media fragmentation. And multimedia needs to be driven by the editorial team.
2. Establish management priorities
The company must establish priorities. Editorial staffers need to see evidence of a vision for a new kind of company – with journalism still at its core. In a knowledge economy news becomes a service, and audiences place value on services that inform, explain, simplify and evaluate news for busy people.
Convenience is a key attribute of a valuable service. So news must be available in whatever medium a customer wants. But news and information remains the driver, not the delivery system. The priority is to supply news and information to whatever platform it needs to be on. Only in English does the word for newspaper carry the concept of paper. Journalists must learn to choose the most appropriate medium for telling the stories they need to tell. Multimedia newsgathering involves a change of mindset, as reporters face constant deadlines and produce different types of stories for different platforms.
3. Changing mindset
A key way to change mindset is to concentrate on journalism’s core values. Regardless of the medium they work in, good journalists have the same fundamental values. Managers must surface those values and make them paramount. Begin by asking people why they became journalists. Their values remain consistent irrespective of the medium they work in.
Not all journalists in a newsroom must be multi-skilled. In many newsrooms around the world only a minority will work across all platforms. But all journalists must become “multimedia minded”. This means they all must understand the strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of all platforms available for telling stories. This helps them choose the most appropriate medium for telling the story.
4. Clear and direct communication
For change to happen, everyone involved needs to understand why the change must take place. Managers can never communicate too much. Thelen said managers had to repeat the same thing hundreds of times in dozens of venues before the message reached all levels of the organization. “About the time you’re getting bored hearing yourself talk, you’re just beginning to really communicate effectively.” Paul Cheung, former chief editor of Ming Pao in Hong Kong, emphasized the need for clear direction from managers. Though the decision to embrace multimedia came from his group’s senior management, change was “editorially driven,” he said. “We knew we had to move on.”
Managers must create awareness by communicating values and intentions, reducing uncertainty. Humans dislike change. Keep stressing how multimedia newsgathering offers journalists a way to tell more powerful stories and better fulfil the media’s democratic responsibilities. Multimedia skills also improve an individual’s professional qualifications and standing, and tend to re-energize jaded print reporters.
5. Identify influential people
When deciding whether to adopt a new idea, people relate to subjective evaluations by others like themselves. Managers must identify “opinion leaders,” those influential individuals in any newsroom structure, and get them “on board” to help influence their peers. People likely to interfere with the integration process also need to be identified.
6. Produce a mission statement
A clear mission statement that tells people where the company is going should be displayed in large type where everyone can see it. If you have multiple floors for the newsroom, duplicate the statement on every floor. Use the intranet to remind people of the core mission, so that the statement appears every time they log on to their computer. The core statement The New York Times produced in 1992 is still relevant. It details in a mere 13 words the company’s aims: “Editorial excellence and independence are essential to our profitability and profit sustains them.”
7. Invest in training
Training needs to be seen as an investment instead of a cost. Create a training program and follow through. No need to re-invent the wheel. Plenty of models are available to be copied. A formal program is evidence of the organization’s commitment to change. It also provides journalists an outlet for expressing their fears and concerns during courses. It is easier to deal with issues in the classroom than in the newsroom. A knowledgeable instructor can allay people’s concerns and demonstrate the benefits of this new form of journalism. Fear is usually the biggest barrier that stops people from learning a new technology. Some newspapers have hired TV journalists who become a resource when course attendees return to the newsroom.
8. Blow up the newsroom
Many newsrooms that have embraced multimedia newsgathering have re-arranged the structure of the newsroom, placing key editorial managers on a “super-desk,” such as at the Daily Telegraph in London or The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, improving communication and coordination. Managers can communicate by simply turning their chairs, rather than wasting time in long meetings in distant conference rooms. The desk serves as a continual reminder of the changes taking place.
9. Co-locate journalists and encourage staff interaction
Put people with similar beats together. If you have separate online and print newsrooms, amalgamate them and sit the online and print reporters together. Establish common desks, so that you put all political reporters in the same location. Proximity promotes trust, which in turn leads to sharing of information and story ideas.
Move the desks so that reporters and copy-editors work together. This helps to break down more barriers. Schedule some copy-editors to arrive before reporters leave. It is important to erase the barriers between copy-editors and reporters. Proximity breeds collegiality.
Establish coffee bars or other “magnet locations” where people can socialize and get to know each other. The need to build trust cannot be over-emphasized. People are more likely to embrace new ideas in an atmosphere of trust. In South Korea, for example, the Maeil Business Daily in Seoul opened a fitness club. Dr. Dae-Whan Chang, president of the Maeil Business Group, said journalists spent time in the club socializing with colleagues, often discussing work. “Often journalists come to work early to talk about a project they are working on.”
10. Publicize successes, and provide incentives and rewards
Journalists respond to challenges and competition. They also like being appreciated. Recognize the most innovative multimedia stories. Track consumer responses to particular stories by measuring page impressions, and email details of successes to all editorial staff. Small, symbolic, prizes such as a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates each week go a long way to improving morale.
11. Install a “newswall”
All multimedia newsrooms should have a series of large, highly-visible screens, to display the organization’s home page, satellite feeds, rival sites and television stations. Use them to display the next day’s newspaper pages as they are being built. The extra sets of eyes of all those people in the open-plan newsroom can alert copy-editors and the online team to mistakes, or rivals’ exclusives.
12. Listen to dissenting voices
Journalists are paid to be sceptical. They will find fault and point out problems in any new project. Be patient with them. Journalists have been socialized early in their career. They form groups or tribes, and tend to be suspicious of new ideas. Common issues will include journalists’ concerns that working in multimedia will force them to work harder for no more pay, and could lead to a dilution of voices in the community. These issues must not be ignored. One of the best places for discussion is in regular training courses.
13. Use databases
Multimedia content produces big digital files. The best way to store all information in a newsroom is in one database, or inter-connected databases. Use the opportunity of a new newsroom to introduce a sound integration system.
14. Remember the audience
Finally, continually remind journalists to remember their audiences. They are the key people in the multimedia revolution journalists are embracing.
Think piece about e-readers
For a typical daily newspaper, only about 15 per cent of the total budget is spent on producing content. Distribution and printing account for at least 60 per cent of the cost of a daily newspaper.
So if media companies could find cheaper and simpler ways to distribute their content, more money could be spent on content.
Enter the e-reader. It is a mobile reading device designed primarily for storing and displaying digital documents. The best-known e-reader devices in 2009 were the Amazon Kindle, the iRex iLiad and the Sony Reader. They are used mostly for reading books, though some daily newspapers are available on them. Most are only available in the US and Europe.
Perhaps one third of one percent of the reading population of the United States owns an e-reader. Newspapers could provide each of their readers who had subscribed for more than two years an e-reader as recognition of loyalty. The e-reader could become a status symbol. Readers could keep the device while they continue to subscribe. This would reduce distribution and printing costs, though managers would need to do the sums to calculate when this approach became financially viable. A newspaper could negotiate a good price by buying e-readers in bulk.
The world’s largest newspaper printing plant, owned by News Corporation, started production in March 2008. Based in Broxbourne, north of London, it is larger than 20 football fields and can produce 3.2 million newspapers a night. That plant cost $US 917 million.
The cost of a printing press tends to be amortized over 30 years, so that means News Corporation will spend about $30.5 million a year on printing. By comparison, the cost of hosting a major web site that transfers several hundred gigabytes of data a day is negligible. Amazon’s huge server farms cost about $35,000 a year. Compared with printing on paper, distribution costs for online editions of newspapers are almost zero.
Analysts estimate it costs about $650 million a year to print and deliver The New York Times. As of April 2009 about 830,000 people had subscribed to the paper for more than two years. To give an e-reader to each of those subscribers, at $400 per device, would cost the Times about $332 million. These numbers are simplistic and it would cost money to close down the printing presses and dispose of the fleets of trucks and other distribution tools.
But for a media organization starting fresh, or looking for new business models, e-readers offer an option.
Early in 2009 the Hearst Corporation announced it would release an e-reader for newspapers some time in 2010. It would be American letter in size and weigh less than half a pound. In April 2009 News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch said his company was investing in a mobile device for reading newspapers on a screen. The project was in its early software development stages, and he provided few details.
In March 2009 Plastic Logic said it planned to release an un-named e-reader in January 2010. The Plastic Logic product will have a screen 10.7 inches diagonally (about 27cm) compared with the 6-inch (15cm) display of the Kindle. The Plastic Logic device would weigh about the same as the Kindle (10.3 ounces or 292 grams) because it will be made from plastic rather than glass and silicon. It will also be more robust and durable.
The e-readers on the market in 2009 were compact and personal, like a mobile phone, while the Hearst, News Corp and Plastic Logic versions are intended for newspapers. They are potentially attractive to audiences if newspapers can get the content and business model right. Hearst and its partners plan to sell the e-readers to publishers and take a cut of the revenue derived from selling magazines and newspapers on these devices. The publishers will develop their own branding and payment models.
The devices have other selling points. They are perceived as being greener than newsprint. Don Carli, executive vice president of SustainCommWorld, and senior research fellow with the Institute for Sustainable Communication, said print had come to be seen as a wasteful and environmentally destructive “despite the fact that much of print media is based on comparatively benign and renewable materials”.
Companies like Kodak had faced the same challenge as newspapers in trying to decouple the business of capturing and preserving memories from the business of selling analog film photography and photo-finishing systems. Newspapers were likely to face similar problems trying to decouple newsgathering, journalism and advertising from production and delivery in print to delivery via e-readers, Carli said.
“The carbon cost of print will no longer be swept under the rug. It will soon have to appear on the balance sheets of advertisers, publishers and retailers. It will also appear in the price tags of goods and services. Business models that fail to recognize full lifecycle cost and value will be unlikely to succeed going forward. As we exit the global recession we will simultaneously be transitioning to a low carbon global economy that will change the meaning and value of waste and inefficiency,” Carli said.