MediaFile

The irrational imitation of the online news industry

All across Europe, journalistic online startups are launching, aiming to produce and disseminate news in new ways. In our brave new world, the nimble startups of tomorrow were supposed to be overtaking the lumbering dinosaurs of yesterday online. But nearly all of these startups, even the most impressive and innovative sites, are struggling to survive because they face structural and strategic challenges that are not always recognized upfront. To succeed, European journalistic startups need to recognize these challenges, move beyond simply imitating others and find their own paths ahead.

The structural challenges for European journalistic startups have to do with the competition they face in content and advertising.

Startups are trying to establish themselves in a market for online news that is dominated by legacy media like newspapers and broadcasters. New journalistic ventures, such as Netzeitung, Rue89 and Il Post, are competing not only with other startups but also with the popular online offerings of news organizations like Spiegel, Le Monde and La Reppublica. These incumbents, and others like them, have built their digital strategy around their well-known brands and content from their existing newsrooms. They fund them with profits from their (generally declining) offline operations. Together with a handful of aggregators and portals, such legacy players dominate online news provision in most European countries.

As European news startups compete with established news media on the content side, they are also trying to carve out a position in a market for online advertising. That market is already dominated by U.S.-based giants like Google (and increasingly Facebook). A few large players attract most of the advertising, while innumerable smaller websites with display advertising keep down rates (so-called CPMs, cost per thousand impressions), eroding the value of the audience that each journalistic venture manages to attract.

Those are the structural challenges. The strategic challenges, meanwhile, concern the tendency toward irrational imitation. Startups across Europe need to break with two kinds of imitation in particular to develop sustainable funding models for the future.

Legendary Cosmo editor gives $30 million to Columbia, Stanford

Helen Gurley Brown, the 89-year-old former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of “Sex and the Single Girl” is donating $30 million to Columbia University and Stanford to fund a media and technology institute.

Columbia will pocket $18 million while Stanford’s Engineering School will net $12 million. Columbia will use $6 million to build a “highly visible signature space” at the journalism school’s building in New York. This marks a record donation for the journalism school.  

Apple board-member Bill Campbell will advise the new center along with Hearst Corp CEO Frank A. Bennack, Jr. The donation is in honor of Gurley Brown’s late husband David, the famous producer of classic movies such as ”Jaws” and attended both schools. Gurley Brown, who was dubbed “the original Carrie Bradshaw” by the New York Times. edited Cosmo for more than three decades.

from UK News:

Constitution in crisis as tyrannical journalists devour cowed politicians

A sordid tale of excess and brutality, of a world dominated by journalists with their ears to the keyhole, of tyrannical newspapers wielding remarkable power and of a political class not only cowed, but consumed, by that power.

Sound familiar? With two of Britain's most senior policemen out of a job, the prime minister under pressure for his serenading of News Corp and one of the world's most powerful press barons, in the form of Rupert Murdoch, summoned to testify to parliament, it would be one way of describing the current state of affairs.

In fact, it is how Irish writer and wit Oscar Wilde saw the state of Britain 120 years ago.

Aretha Franklin is alive, and Twitter is growing up.

USA/First Charlie Sheen died a tragic if imaginary death in a snowboarding accident. Now poor Aretha Franklin is being mourned on Twitter for a demise that has yet to happen.

It’s all such sad news – not so much for the celebrities in question (after all, no publicity is bad publicity, even if it’s a press release announcing you are alive). But for Twitter and its credibility as a 21st Century news platform.

Twitter, like any web technology, is a double-edged blade. Early on, it drew praise by allowing people to jointly cover breaking news such as the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 and violent protests in Iran in the summer of 2009.

Selling the news: Reuters, the AP and Tribune

We and others reported Monday night that our parent company Thomson Reuters Corp is starting a U.S. general news service for U.S. publishers and broadcasters. Though my employer, Reuters News, has been providing general and business/financial/economic news for more than a century, we didn’t have a service before that would rely on a big group of hired journalists and stringers to get busy covering U.S. news in a large way.

You can see our story here, as well as the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and paidContent.org stories, for more information. One of the interesting aspects that we didn’t get into in our story is one of the reasons that Tribune Co, Reuters America’s first client, decided to work with our parent company.

Here’s Russell Adams’s explanation, taken from The Wall Street Journal:

from Summit Notebook:

Daily Beast staff ‘happy as clams,’ says Barry Diller

The journalists and staff who work at The Daily Beast don't look at life like you other sad-sack scribes out there who are watching your job market wash out to sea with the ebb tide. In fact, they are happy in a particularly mollusk-like way.

"They're as happy as clams," said Barry Diller, chief executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp, which is financing the online news outlet with its editor, Tina Brown. "They wake up every morning filled with possibility."

That's because they are not working at sinking-ship news outlets like most of the rest of their colleagues in mainstream U.S. journalism.

from Global News Journal:

Dream job or snake pit? UN appoints new spokesman

By Patrick Worsnip

It's not uncommon for journalists at some point in their careers to cross the barricades and become the people who dish out the news as spokespersons for an organization or firm, rather than being on the receiving end. It requires a different set of skills that can make the transition tough, and a stern test confronts former Reuters correspondent Martin Nesirky, who has just been appointed spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. After a high-flying career at Reuters that saw him fill senior editorial positions in London, Berlin, Moscow and Seoul, Nesirky has had some time to acclimatize to his new role by working for more than three years as spokesman for the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), based in Vienna. But the move to New York brings much more formidable challenges.

Like any U.N. spokesperson, Nesirky, a Briton, will have to take into account the concerns of the 192 nations that belong to the world body. That's 192 different governments that can get upset by something he might say. But his chief problem may be his boss Ban, whose public image, to put it mildly, could take a little burnishing. Aside from his awkward use of English, which has television producers tearing their hair, Ban has had a rough ride from hostile media that have accused him of failing to use his position to end the world's conflicts and right its wrongs. (Defenders say he is more effective than he appears, works tirelessly behind closed doors, and has made at least some progress on such intractable issues as climate change, global poverty and the crisis in Darfur.)

Then there is the sprawling and ill-defined nature of the U.N. press and public relations operation, with different officials and factions competing for the secretary-general's attention and waiting to pounce on any mis-step by one of the others. The outgoing spokeswoman, Michele Montas of Haiti, stuck to the job for less than three years. In trying to stay close to the South Korean secretary-general, Nesirky could benefit from his knowledge of the Korean language from his time in Seoul. He is also married to a South Korean. But these advantages too could be a double-edged sword. U.N. diplomats have long complained that Ban is happiest in a Korean comfort zone and relies too much on a compatriot who serves as his deputy chief-of-staff, Kim Won-soo.

As a white male from a Western permanent member of the Security Council, Nesirky could also face suspicion from diversity lobbies and from the developing world, which already sees Ban as too much in thrall to the United States. (Ban's U.S. critics make the opposite accusation.)

from Reuters Editors:

Giant shoulders and the chain of knowledge

The new world is not so different from the old world – it just moves faster and in different ways.

As early as the 12th century, the image of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants came into discourse to mean that all knowledge advances based on the discoveries of the past.

In academia and in journalism that notion has been coupled with the doctrine of attribution – you need to acknowledge the shoulders you’re standing on, to give due credit but also to allow others to search out that perch and see if their view from it is any different.

Friday media highlights

Here are some of the day’s stories on the media industry:

Movie studios try to harness “Twitter effect” (Reuters)
“Audiences are voicing snap judgments on movies faster and to more people than ever before on Twitter, and their ability to create a box office hit or a flop is forcing major studios to revamp marketing campaigns. The stakes are especially high this summer season when big budget movies like “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which opened on Wednesday, play to a core audience of young, plugged-in moviegoers,” writes Alex Dobuzinskis.

Sun-Times chief optimistic about sale of company (Chicago Tribune)
But, Michael Oneal writes: “In a court filing last week, creditors in the Sun-Times’ bankruptcy case raised concerns about the sale efforts, noting that the company has “limited time” before it “can no longer sustain the losses being incurred from operations.” They warned that unless a buyer is found soon, “time could run out, or a buyer could be located that would only pay a fire-sale price.”

Goldman makes peace with blogger in trademark case (Reuters)
“The agreement required blogger Michael Morgan to post a disclaimer on his goldmansachs666.com website, saying it has no affiliation with the financial firm. Morgan, a Florida investment adviser, uses his blog — whose name combines Goldman’s name with numbers used to evoke connotations with the devil — to criticize the bank and its large profits,” writes Martha Graybow.

from Sean Maguire:

The raw and the crafted

The Media Standards Trust has begun a lecture series on 'Why Journalism Matters'. It is disconcerting that it feels we have to ask the question. The argument put forward by the British group's director Martin Moore is that news organisations are so preoccupied with business survival that discussion of the broader social, political and cultural function of journalism gets forgotten. It is a pertinent review then, given the icy economic blasts hitting most Anglo-Saxon media groups, and notwithstanding the recent examples of self-evidently broader journalistic 'value' produced by London's Daily Telegraph in its politican-shaming investigations into parliamentarians' expenses.

First up in the series was Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, who cantered through the justifications for a vibrant, independent press. Watchdog, informer, explainer, campaigner, community builder and debater - those are the roles that journalism plays. The value that it brings is most evident by comparison with the unhealthiness of states where the press is not free, noted Barber, citing the struggles of the citizenry in China and Russia to hold their leaders to account.

The FT's USP as a media group, according to Barber, is as an explainer and analyser of complicated events that play out across a global stage. But analytical reporting of global stories costs serious cash, he noted, in a question-begging aside. That you get the quality of journalism you are prepared to pay for, ultimately, is his response to the challenge posed to mainstream media by Internet-enabled communicators. For free you can have the rawness of a blog. For crafted journalism that is properly sourced, reviewed for taste and style and checked for accuracy, you must find ways to charge. At your peril do you blur the edges between the crafted and the raw world of easy comment, hasty opinion and rumour billed as fact, argues the FT editor.  (There was a hat tip, however, to the bloggers that have broken news, such as Guido Fawkes who forced the resignation of an advisor to Gordon Brown by revealing his plans for a smear email campaign.)