JCL Blog

Discovery of News is Good for Journalism and Twitter

Twitter might be blamed for disrupting the reach of newspapers by diverting readers to other news outlets, but it would be difficult to say that Twitter is hurting journalism.  News readership has declined somewhat over the past decade.  But still, Scarborough Research reports that between 71% and 78% of adults read the newspaper in print or online every week.   Given the news industry’s lack of comprehensive measures for old media and new media — it is not impossible to believe that the overall audience for print plus online is actually growing.  And Twitter should be credited for some of that increase.  

The story about technology and journalism has recently been dominated by how technology has taken away the money. The blamers cannot help but warn about how dark our future will be without adequate funding to pay for quality journalism and the blame is thick on those taking away the revenue.  

The most notorious takers are those that killed the biggest cash machine for the newspapers - the classifieds.  Craigslist and eBay and the help wanted sites (monster.com; careerbuilder.com) diverted classified advertising revenue away from news organizations some time ago.   Twitter shouldn't be blamed for stealing the advertising money because it has only been very recently that Twitter has been getting any of it (about $900 million in the last 4 quarters), and it is hard to say specifically how the traditional news media is losing ad revenue to Twitter.  The Newspaper Association of America reports US advertising revenues of $25 Billion for 2012 (last year reported), which is down from its peak of $46 Billion in 2003 and more or less equal to the run rate in the early ‘80s.  But any causal link between Twitter and the decline is just too fuzzy to make a big deal about.  

Twitter does require journalists to exercise some new muscles.  Not everyone likes concrete measures or immediate feedback, particularly the unfavorable kind.  Last week David Carr wrote a good piece about this in the NY Times: Risks Abound As Reporters Play in Traffic.  

When Jack Doresy and Evan Williams founded Twitter in 2006 they did not set out to disrupt anything. They were hanging by their fingernails at their company Odeo and seemingly on a whim built a status update system patterned after AOL’s status updates - but for mobile users.  Twitter had its Cinderella moment at the South by Southwest conference in 2007 and the rest as they say is well known by everyone.  

Six years after its launch Twitter is an essential tool for journalists.  Sean Evins (@evins) of the Twitter Government & Politics Team and Simon Rogers (@smfrogers), Twitter's Data Editor, declined to comment for this article, but the fact that Twitter has capable people in those roles is a leading indicator that Twitter is investing in making journalism better.  In addition, the media section of the Twitter website has a good list of best practices for journalists that range from promoting content, to collecting feedback, and maximizing the impact of photos and videos. 

Discovery of breaking news is certainly the killer app for Twitter and news junkies and casual readers alike know to turn to Twitter first when a plane be lost in the Indian Ocean or an earthquake hits Los Angeles.

Do We Dare Say that Journalism Has Hit the Bottom?

Last week the Pew Center released its State of the News Media report for 2014.  While the report reinforces the headwinds faced by traditional media outlets (ad revenues down 52% from 2003), it also illuminates growth in digital only news outlets that now number over 500 and employ about 5,000 full time professionals. Could it be time for the journalists to stop blaming technologists for depriving them of the means to pay for the essential service they provide?

Jeff Jarvis anointed Johannes Gutenberg as the original technologist in his 2012 book Gutenberg the Geek.  Whether or not Gutenberg needed Jarvis’ endorsement, journalism and technology have certainly been dance partners for hundreds of years.  Gutenberg’s movable type printing press brought about revolutions in business, religion, and politics and gave story tellers the ability to reach a larger audience than ever thought possible at open mic night in 1439 Strasbourg.

The advertising industry traces its roots to the very same 15th century when the practice of paying artists including Michelangelo to produce art that contained certain messages.  Many of these new visual advertisements were religious in nature. Soon politicians and business people were the fast followers of this new technology; commissioning works that were clearly promotional.  In early renaissance Italy, everybody who was anybody had a portrait with a 3D background showing off the Filippo Brunelleschi’s new technology of perspective drawing.

About a hundred years later the Gutenbergers and the Brunelleschis joined their ability to print things cheaply and their desire to encourage readers to buy things and gave birth in 1525 to advertisements as we know them today.  In fact the New York Times Book Review was not an original idea, because those early ads were mostly for books and were found in the precursor to newspapers, the broadsheet.

All of this is to make the simple case that technology is just doing what it does.  Yes, Craigslist, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the techies have stolen away the revenue the newsrooms needed to survive.  However, their geek ancestors created the technology that enabled advertising and newspapers some 500 years ago for the same reason the newsroom is in the emergency room today.  The geeks are still just doing what they do.

Technology people don’t under-appreciate Ed Murrow.  23 generations after Gutenberg, they are still in the business of delivering as much information as possible to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible.  The argument that we are replacing the system that brought us back from the brink of McCarthyism with a system that serves up the best grumpy cat videos has been used to cling tightly to the way that it was for long enough.  We have now seen how new media actors like Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, have worked with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Der Spiegel to revive the fourth estate.

Certainly, there is much work to be done.  A flood of technology energy is being applied to this industry, and not just the high profile purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, or the founding of First Look Media by Pierre Omidyar.  New media organizations are everywhere, both succeeding and failing fast in their pursuit of good journalism.  We know that 5,000 jobs created in the new digital world do not fill the hole created by the tens of thousands of jobs lost in traditional newsrooms, but it does seem possible that the bottom has been reached and working together journalism and technology are building something we should be watching.


Craig Newmark is a Good Guy

The face of Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig's List, is posted on dartboards in many newspaper publishers offices, right next to the down and to the right revenue chart.  Very few newspaper publishers know what to do about the loss of classified advertising revenue.  What they know is that Craig's little company has an up and to the right revenue chart.  Somehow those publishers think that by blowing up Craig their problems will be solved.  

Every unhappy under-performing business needs someone to vilify.  It sure is easier than looking in the mirror to find the problem.

The newspapers efforts to paint Craig Newmark as a pornographer surely emphasize that delusional people have a hard time understanding the extent of their delusion.  We advertise on Craig's list for job postings.  Craig's list is much more effective, and we pay $75 for an add that used to cost us over $600 in the newspaper.  

I know that Craig Newmark is a good person and the service he provides works.  I cannot imagine this ploy accomplishing anything for the newspaper publishers.  If anything it will serve to remind us that it is dangerous to be associated with an industry in decline, particularly one without leadership or good ideas.   

Everyone Wants to be in Sales

It seems like everyone wants to be in sales these days.  The twist is the new entrants want to be in sales -- without salespeople.  I spend good deal of time thinking about this because my company is an outsourced provider of sales and marketing services.

In the past decade many web based services have forever changed the way that customers interact with the makers of the products and services they buy.  And those interactions are being done more often than ever without the participation of a salesperson.

Travel:  Web services like Priceline, Expedia, Hotels, and Kayak have been cutting the travel agent out of the travel business for over a decade now.  Some of these services have real people in call centers somewhere, but I rarely talk with them and I suspect you don't either.  

Specialty: You can buy just about anything from Amazon, eBay, iTunes, and Craig's List without ever encountering a salesperson.

Advertising: Google is working hard to position itself as the salesperson for everything, but for now they are mostly disrupting the sale of advertising.  Google leads the market for advertising on the web through its AdWords and AdSense programs in a largely self service model.

Homes:  Zillow has not completely blown up the realtors yet, but it may not be long.  

Cars:  The great recession has caused the car manufacturers to dramatically reduce the number of car dealerships.  And car dealerships were mostly full of salespeople.  Car buying may be the next thing we do without the aid of salespeople.

Everything Else:  Last week a the latest digital personal assistant, Siri, was launched.  Yes I know, the Newton never panned out for Apple, and the world (and a box in my garage) is filled with failed PDAs, but if this one gets over the top, it aims to be the salesperson of everything from taxis to concert tickets.  All of this done without any actual salespeople.

All of the human salespeople better do something!