A new memo from Steven Swartz, the president of Hearst Newspapers, outlines some significant changes in store for the chain. For one, it's going to start charging for some Web content --- although it seems local management will determine where to draw the line between free and premium material.
There is a belief that this firewall will effectively drive up ad rates. Lower traffic will mean fewer available spots for advertising, which in turn will create some scarcity, which should yield more demand and better fees.
Hearst plans to increase its Web staffing, offer self-serve advertising for small businesses, provide access to third-party printing and ad platforms, and develop electronic readers for its content.
Swartz's memo to staff comes in the middle of the chain's 100-day initiative to rework its operations. Earlier this week, Cablevision announced that its subsidiary Newsday would be discontinuing its free service online and shifting its content into a local news site under its cable operation for subscribers.
For just a moment, let's take the attention away from the plight of newspapers and have a look at the past, present and future challenges of the television networks.
The New York Times surmises that, despite the continued attention on conventional TV, the business model is broken. Culturally and financially, there are large problems inherent in the way networks operate, and there is no growth in site in a digital sphere.
Jeff Zucker, the head of NBC Universal, worries the industry needs immediate change or faces being either the auto or newspaper industry. Canadian and Australian television networks also argue their business model is breaking down as the Internet hives off viewers and advertisers.
An open question is whether the Internet poses a more serious, imminent challenge to the TV network than it does the paper.
The demise today of the Rocky Mountain News set off a wave of essays, but the most interesting of the lot comes from The Daily Beast's Larry Kramer, a venture capital executive and former head of CBS Marketwatch.
He proposes an industry that follows its customers, that serves niches and worries not about the delivery system but the content it creates. It turns the idea of format-obsession on its side and suggests that the topics media cover --- and spread all over --- should serve as the structural model.
Kramer sees a bright future, but a very different future.
UPDATED: There was a bad link inside the story. Andrew Nachison has supplied a fresh link.
A new Zogby poll for WeMedia suggests traditional media are losing ground in Ameica as credible and primary news sources.
The numbers don't indicate a seismic shift, but the poll found 48 per cent picked the Internet as a prime source of news, up from 40 per cent a year earlier. Among those 18-29, the Internet was the first choice among 55 per cent of them.
The poll didn't just indicate a rise in the popularity of the Internet. It suggests that traditional media aren't strongly trusted and are out of touch. Many also expressed concern about the size of media companies.
Cablevision, the parent company of the newspaper/site Newsday, announced Thursday that later this year the site will stop being freely available. In its place will be a locally focused news site attached to its cable service, available to subscribers, presumably for a fee either explicitly or implicitly.
Not surprisingly, the response has been one of horror in the digital sphere.
But it's an interesting model deserving of more scrutiny in the weeks ahead, because it offers access to unique content (Newsday's local coverage) to a subscriber base with a relationship to the cable service --- rather like community television.
It has been tried before, but not as a premium. Still, the details that will emerge in the weeks ahead will be interesting to study.
There are some disconcerting figures from the IDC market research firm about online advertising. It's predicting a year-over-year decline in the first quarter of 2009, the first such decline since the dot-com bubble burst in 2001.
A second-quarter decline is also expected, IDC says.Search ad growth has slowed, while classified and display ads have plummeted. IDC had predicted earlier a 10-per-cent growth in 2009; that forecast will be revised downward when its next forecast in published next month.
A good post of common sense from CoPress on the cultural change necessary inside the newspaper newsroom --- among other things, the change in identity to one of a platform for content, an entry point for a facilitated (not created) community.
Steve Yelvington could have written more, so much more, in his latest post on the silly ideas abounding for the newspaper industry: shut the presses, micropayments, the faith in Google as the rescue dog in the avalanche.
He's right: Quality sells. How it sells in future is an open question. How the news business finds sufficient sources of support --- revenue, employment, and the like --- is the fundamental challenge (for the time being, cost containment is an even greater challenge).
But he points to a real problem: The Internet has given a platform to a lot of people who haven't worked in a newsroom, haven't managed a budget and haven't got any kind of a grip on basic economics. It's been tough to read some of the pieces in recent weeks without screaming.
Plenty of ideas abound on rescuing ailing newspapers. Lately we've seen debate on the non-profit model and the micropayment model. Now comes the community-owned model.
As in: Green Bay Packers, the NFL team owned and operated by its community. The proposal in this post emanates from concerns the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is nearing collapse. Its union is exploring the idea of community members essentially owning shares of the ongoing operation.
Now, a few things to bear in mind in reading the post here: The Packers are part of a league that performs many of the most important functions for it. The NFL jointly sets payroll caps, negotiates television contracts, and operates many of the front- and back-office functions commonly across franchises so there are no market advantages. The Packers can theoretically win as much as a big-market team. I'm not sure the community ownership is the saving grace as much as the collective league and player agreement in controlling costs and ensuring competitiveness.
But, a concept worth exploring.
Small Initiatives has a very simple look at how ESPN.com smartly nails search engine results by making its headlines fuller-fledged --- as in full names, not surnames, and full places, not their nicknames.
The reason is clear: Google Alerts and other search queries will yield good results. This technique shouldn't be lost on any newsroom trying to garner traffic online.
It'll be interesting to see what my traffic is with my headline of SEO: Putting Britney Spears and Barack Obama subtly in headlines