Howard Owens is a digital media pioneer. He started publishing local news online in 1995 when very few local news outlets had web sites. The header image on the site depicts the film camera he used early in his career and the press pass from his year on the staff of the Carlsbad Journal. For more on Howard's professional background, read his LinkedIn profile.
HowardOwens.com is the personal web site of Howard Owens and covers his range of interests -- political localism and libertarianism, music and personal interests, as well as his professional interests.
Howard is currently publisher of The Batavian and lives in Batavia, N.Y.
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Tag Archives: Media
There are three main points from the new report from the Readership Institute (via Romenesko):
- Your newspaper is doing a better job at retaining readers than you might expect;
- Your web site is doing a worse job at attracting readers than you might believe;
- Young readers ain’t reading newspapers, and they’re not likely to start.
Why aren’t they (print readership numbers) much worse, when the imminent demise of newspapers seems to be all we ever hear about? The short answer is that reading customers aren’t deserting newspapers at anything approaching the rate that advertising customers are. That is no consolation for newspaper company employees who are losing their jobs.
One word: Recession.
Come on people, the main issue facing newspapers right now is recession. Advertisers (to their own detriment) advertise less during a recession.
Yes, there is a ton of secular pressure on newspapers right now, especially in classifieds. We’ve lost billions of revenue to the Internet. But the problem there isn’t our lack of innovation, as some espouse. It’s actually something more basic than that: Sales.
We’ve been slow to motivate and migrate our classified sales staffs away from order takers to sales professionals. With greater competition, and disruptive competition, came the need for our staffs to actually sell. It’s not like they didn’t, and don’t, have value to to sell. Newspaper, even today, in their dominant local markets, are still the best classified buy around. But we haven’t done a very good job of telling our customers that. And to whatever degree our online products help, and they help a lot, we don’t do a very good job of telling our advertisers how much value we actually deliver.
The flip side of the good news about print readership is how poorly local newspaper web sites are performing and how poorly we’re doing with young readers.
These are trends that should have no immediate impact, but the long-term consequences are horrendous.
Which is why getting online right and doing it now, and being news organizations that can move comfortably between both (all?) worlds is essential.
Newspaper staffs can and should take comfort in the readership numbers for print, but if they go no further with their thinking than, “see, I told you this web stuff was bunk,” they they are threatening the very survival of the institutions they claim to love.
While maintaining our print products as vital center pieces of our communities is important, we must concentrate on developing online literacy, which means:
- Learning how to develop content that is web centric (writing more conversationally, adding more related material (databases, PDFs, video, links, etc.);
- Learning better how to present our material online for a culture that is more diverse in its interest, has more options and makes quicker mental jumps;
- Ensuring that our online products are differentiated from print products — the publication cycle is different, the mentality is different, the presentation is different, the push/pull aspect is different;
- Stop seeing online as a threat and embrace it as an opportunity — recession or not, print is not a growth medium; the growth opportunity, the chance to create new streams of revenue, and the opportunity to create great new journalistic products that serve present and future generations better is online;
There is so much we could be doing with our web sites that we’re not getting done. The online readership numbers should be really sobering to newsrooms across America — the strategy of repurposing newspaper journalism — no matter how great you think it is — just isn’t working.
Every time some curmudgeon complains about online news sites not making any money, I’ve had the same response I’ve had for years: That’s because we don’t have enough audience. It isn’t that online can’t make money — we make good money now, and deliver a great value to the advertisers who do buy our products now — it’s that we don’t have the loyal concentration of readership we need online to maximize the revenue opportunities that are there.
I believe as strongly as I ever have — going back to East County Online in 1995 — that local online community news sites can build audience and grow sustaining, high-dollar revenue. I still believe we can get there, but not if we don’t make the effort.
The fact that newspaper readership has remained relatively stable over recent years (the long-term trend isn’t hopeful), is good news — it buys us time to get online right. The caveat there, of course, is there are lots of disruptive competitors rising up to beat us to the punch. We don’t want to miss out because we’re too wedded to a print way of thinking. Let’s continue to push for differentiated online community news and information products.
John Wilpers is taking aim and taking names … he goes hunting for the top newspapers in the industry and asks if they’re really doing a good job at being the center of the local mediasphere.
And notice, I didn’t say “blogosphere,” because even though he concentrates on blogs in his post, the question really is — are you directing traffic for ALL of the media in your coverage area. Blogs are a big part of it, and you need to really get John’s point if you want to get modern media, but we really need to think beyond blogs.
You should have policies, strategies and procedures in place to ensure you’re linking to all of the local media … TV, Radio, Blogs, wiki sites, craigslist … why should a reader need to go to any of those other sites FIRST to get news or information. Should you be directing traffic?
How good of a job is your web site doing at being the center of the mediasphere? Continue reading
My post critiquing the online activity of SPJ’s Mark of Excellence caused a stir. Predictably, not everybody liked it. But it also seemed to do some good. A few of the students mentioned came to the site with positive responses.
Claire St. Amant just left this comment on the post:
I came across your blog while googling myself, or “ego-surfing” as you call it. My site was in a bit of a holding pattern, but your critique spurred me on to further development—see http://www.clairestamant.com I’ve also started a technorati account in hopes of generating traffic. Thanks for the shout-out and constructive criticism. Glad to see you’re back online, too. Oh, and I share your disdain for the “Frat Boys News” byline. Any advice on how I could get that moved down and/or off would be greatly appreciated.
Her site is considerably improved. She’s even got a blog going.
That is all to the good, I think, but if I were to go all Simon Cowell on her, and be “totally honest,” I’d warn against calling her blog posts “blogs.” I find that a common mistake among print people — I’ve seen print people call comments on stories, forum postings and individual blog entries all “blogs,” which isn’t quite correct. A blog contains posts. “Blogs” is a collection of blogs, not individual posts. You don’t post a blog; you post a post on a blog.
Also, I would recommend making her blog her home page, rather than a section of her site, and make everything else she wants to put on the site a section or separate page (such as her resume, pointers to her work, etc.) Blogs have mad SEO, especially if she can get some people to link to her, and would help her with that unfortunate byline on the Frat Boys site.
She asked for advice specifically related to pushing down the Frat Boys link in a Google search. I’ll offer some advice below, but hopefully others will jump in (and we could all do her a favor by linking to her site as Claire St. Amant, to improve her page rank and help her own her own name in search (which shouldn’t be hard, because it’s a fairly unusual name).
- Get a Facebook profile going. Use it to link to your site.
- Start a LinkedIn profile (be sure to take advantage of the service that allows you to create a URL containing your name). My LinkedIn profile page does well in Google. Also, link to your site.
- Start a profile page on Wired Journalists. Link to your site. My profile page hits the second page of a Google search for my name.
- My Buzznet site ranks real high for my name in Google, so start posting photos to Buzznet.
- Ditto for Flickr.
- Grab your name, as in “clairstamant,” as a Twitter account. My Twitter account ranks high on Google.
- Start a Digg account. Be a good Digg member and digg worthwhile links, but also when you do a good post, digg your own post. This will help with SEO, too. My Digg account ranks high on Google.
- Start a YouTube account with your real name as your account name. This should rank high, then, in Google searches for your name. Of course, you’ll want to post some videos. I don’t know how other hiring managers would feel, but I’m going to look more at the spirit of the effort than the quality of the content. I’m not expecting your personal creative expressions online to be NBC ready.
- Start a second blog. This is an opportunity to add a little SEO juice to your main, professional domain, and it gives you an outlet for personal expression, while keeping your name.com site for professional purposes.
- Always use your real name online — for EVERYTHING you do. Never leave an anonymous comment. Never use an assumed name. You want people to know you, find you, look for your, know who you are and what you do. Not only is posting anonymously unethical for journalists to do, it robs you of a chance to increase your visibility. Also, cheap and easy anonymity can lure you into a career-ruining mistake. Remember, you can always be found out.
Clair has two big advantage for owning her own name in Google (and other search engines). First, she a unique name; second, she’s had the forethought to register a domain with that name. All journalists with unique names should follow suit, and the Jim Smith’s of the world should work out some variation of their name, register tha
One other thing for Claire — who owns the copyright to the Baylor Lariat piece? The amount of the excerpt looks to go beyond fair use, so you or the paper might want to issue a DMCA takedown notice. That should get it out of Google eventually. Continue reading
I can think of some very good ideas for brining in people from outside the newspaper industry to help us save ourselves:
- Outside perspective means a fresh look at our problems;
- That other industry perspective might mean new ideas that haven’t been tried in our industry yet;
- Somebody who has been successful in one industry is probably a very creative thinker and can really help us brainstorm;
- The new person doesn’t know our sacred cows, or isn’t afraid of them — he or she can really blow things up and start over.
So it should be a good thing that Sam Zell brought Lee Abrams into Tribune, right?
Here’s what we get from Abrams: 15 trite ideas that have been espoused and debated in the industry for more than a decade. If there’s a fresh, significant thought in there, I can’t find it.
The sad things is, though, there are probably a lot of journalist who might find the whole memo radical and scary. And maybe that’s the only reason the Abrams memo is important at all — not that it’s new, but that Abrams has a loud enough voice to be heard over the complaints of change resisters in newsrooms across the land. Continue reading
There’s nothing to this blog thing, right? It’s just a lot of blow hards spouting opinions.
Well, upstart HuffingtonPost.com has surpassed DrudgeReport.com (not a blog, but more of a big media headline aggregator, and so well established now as to be pretty MSM) in traffic, and according to compete.com, is gaining on the Chicago Tribune.
Hey, it’s 2008! Go to college and learn to become a print reporter!
Watch is amazing video promoting Conestoga College‘s journalism program.
[youtube ELoBRgruNAQ nolink]
Well, they do offer broadcast … here’s a list of their media courses. It must still be 1988 in Canada.
Not one mention of the web. Amazing.
Folks, this is what we’re teaching our kids. Continue reading
MediaGeeks.org is the media-specific search engine I created several weeks ago using Google Customer Search.
If you haven’t tried it yet, please do.
Personally, I’ve found it very useful for looking stuff I’ve read some place some time but forgotten where, or even if I can remember I read in in Romenesko or elsewhere, it’s a quick and convenient way to find the exact post I want.
I’m preparing a post on newspaper blogging … it was partly inspired by something Mark Cuban wrote recently, but addressing Cuban’s rant has really more of a sidebar to my main point (I hope to finish that shortly), so I’m spinning it out here:
Newspaper blogging is probably the worst marketing and branding move a newspaper can make. The barriers to entry for bloggers are non existent. There are no editorial standards. There are no accuracy standards. We bloggers can and do write whatever we damn well please. Historically newspapers have set some level of standards that they strived to adhere to. By taking on the branding, standard and posting habits of the blogosphere, newspapers have worked their way down to the least common demoninator of publishing in what appears to be an effort to troll for page views.
CICO (Crap in, Crap out — see my coming post for how this fits). Some newspaper bloggers (most, probably), aren’t very good. But that doesn’t mean newspapers should not hire and promote bloggers. Online isn’t news print. You would think a man of Cuban’s background and blogging prowess would get that. And there is no reason to assume that a newspaper-affiliated blogger would adhere to the low standards Cuban assigns to bloggers. CICO. Newspaper bloggers can and should do better.
Besides that, I can think of several bloggers who demonstrate higher ethical standards than some of the people employed at the New York Times or CNN.
So Cuban sells bloggers short, sadly. And with that said, his space limitation problems are his problem, not the media’s. He has an obligation to accommodate all legimate media, whether the output is to print, broadcast, a vlog or a blog. If he needs to build a bigger locker room to do it, then he should start calling contractors.
Any time you come across an article that favorably quotes Andrew Keen, start running … fast … naked, if necessary, down the street.
Keen has made name for himself as an expert on amateur content and its danger to society. The funny thing is, Keen is himself nothing but an amateur who happened to get a book published.
By any name, the current incarnation of the Internet is known for giving power to the people. Sites like YouTube and Wikipedia collect the creations of unpaid amateurs while kicking pros to the curb—or at least deflating their stature to that of the ordinary Netizen. But now some of the same entrepreneurs that funded the user-generated revolution are paying professionals to edit and produce online content.
Here’s a problem, Wikipedia and YouTube are hugely popular, and continue to get more popular by the month.
And here’s the other unexamined aspect of the Newsweek premise: The reason so-called expert-vetted sites are getting funded is because they’re differentiated from existing sites. No smart VC is going to fund a copycat business plan.
In short, the expert is back. The revival comes amid mounting demand for a more reliable, bankable Web. “People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information,” says Charlotte Beal, a consumer strategist for the Minneapolis-based research firm Iconoculture. Beal adds that choice fatigue and fear of bad advice are creating a “perfect storm of demand for expert information.”
Here is a perfect example of sound-bite journalism. The quotes sound great. The problem is, the assertions are based on poetry, not facts. Where are the stats? I mean, on the web, just about everything is measurable, and there are an endless stream of firms that can provide research on audience behavior. Where are the facts to support the assertions?
MySpace and Facebook have started to level off, but they remain hugely popular. That hardly equates to “choice faigue” or a “demand for expert information.”
In December, Google began testing Knol, a Wikipedia-like Web site produced by “authoritative” sources that share ad revenue. The sample page contains an insomnia entry written by Rachel Manber, director of Stanford’s Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine center. In January, BigThink.com, a self-styled “YouTube for ideas” backed by former Harvard president Larry Summers and others, debuted its cache of polished video interviews with public intellectuals. “We think there’s demand for a nook of cyberspace where depth of knowledge and expertise reign,” says cofounder Victoria Brown.
The faulty comparison here is to assume that none of the experts who contribute to Wikipedia are any less qualified than Rachel Manber, or that only credentialed experts can contribute to Knol. Both are bad assumptions. As for BigThink — sounds like a great idea. Niche sites work very well on the web, but traffic-wise, it isn’t exactly causing Jimmy Wales any lost sleep. I mean, seriously, the site did 60,000 visitors one month, 16,000 the next, and we’re supposed to view it as a harbinger of the next big thing?
Meanwhile, Mahalo just launched the final test version of its people-powered search engine, which replaces Google’s popularity-based page rankings with results that the start-up says are based on quality and vetted by real people.
Mahalo is an interesting idea, and is gaining traction. There is most certainly a market for vetted search and expert advice, but it’s a long way from being anything more than an interesting niche vertical search engine. Even Maholo does not support the faulty premise of the article.
Old standbys are also vying to fact-check the world before it reaches your fingertips. The decade-old reference site About.com says its traffic has jumped more than 80 percent since 2005, thanks to a growing network of 670 freelance subject experts called Guides. They include Aaron Gold, an automotive journalist whose picture and bio accompany his chirpy self-introduction: “Hi, I’m Aaron Gold, your Guide to cars!”
What qualifies Aaron Gold as an auto expert? He was an intern at a British auto magazine a few years ago. Now, I have no doubt that since joining About.com, Aaron has become quite knowledgeable about cars, but like most About guides, he has no more expertise in his field than the best bloggers are the most dedicated Wikipedia contributors. The fact of the matter is, About is not a shining example of the rise of the expert. About made its name by getting cheap labor from amateurs looking for a steady free-lance gig.
Fueling all this podium worship is the potential for premium audiences—and advertising revenue. “The more trusted an environment, the more you can charge for it,” says Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis …
Really, and the proof is? Outside of About, none of the sites mentioned in the article have any significant revenue, and About only does well because of great SEO and a huge volume of page views, not because it is a go-to destination for expert advice.
User-generated sites like Wikipedia, for all the stuff they get right, still find themselves in frequent dust-ups over inaccuracies, while community-posting boards like Craigslist have never been able to keep out scammers and frauds.
And so-called expert publications such as the New York Times never have dust ups over inaccurcies? And while I’m a frequent critic of Craigslist, many of the sites that fly under that banner are significantly popular. Overall traffic continues to grow.
Last summer researchers in Palo Alto, Calif., uncovered secret elitism at Wikipedia when they found that 1 percent of the reference site’s users make more than 50 percent of its edits. Perhaps more notoriously, four years ago a computer glitch revealed that Amazon.com’s customer-written book reviews are often written by the book’s author or a shill for the publisher.
Apparently, Newsweek has never heard of the 1 percent rule, so to them, this is news. As for the Amazon.com assertion — where’s the link to back it up. I can recall only one such instance from many years ago. It’s a completely unverified assertion.
And people wonder why I think journalism needs to be reinvented. When unexamined blather like this Newsweek piece can see the light of day, there is something seriously wrong with journalism. And there should be no surprise that its ilk is losing ground to blogs, UGC sites and social networks. This piece is just laughably bad.
Michael Arrington started TechCrunch in June, 2005. It’s now the second most popular blog in the world. According to Compete.com, it is read by at least 900,ooo people per month, but that wouldn’t include the reported 500,000 RSS feed subscribers.
As TechCrunch has risen, Business 2.0 has gone out of business, while CNet and Ziff-Davis have hit financial hard times.
Arrington, when asked about blogs taking page views away from traditional news media, had this to say on Charlie Rose the other night:
It’s a very raw, very quick form of journalism. It’s not editing, it’s not balanced, it’s opinionated. A lot of people really want that.
I read TechCrunch everyday. The blog, now a group blog, breaks a lot of tech news. But every news worthy item contains what some might call opinion. I call it informed insight. Arrington and his team know what the hell they’re talking about and I value and trust their point of view.
TechCrunch has become popular because it is credible. It’s credible to its readers because over time they’ve learned that TechCrunch gets right more than it gets wrong, and it’s never proven itself untruthful, and when they’ve made mistakes, they’ve corrected them quickly. TechCrunch readers don’t look for fair and balanced. They look for relevance and understanding.
Before TechCrunch became a go-to blog for tech news, it had no brand. Arrington, who was pretty much an unknown outside of small circle of Silicon Valley insiders before starting the blog, made it credible; he made it a brand.
The next time some journalist talks about how important their newspaper brand is, think about TechCrunch, which demonstrates that brand isn’t about what you’ve done over the past 100 years — it’s about what you’re doing today.
While talking about journalism and blogging, I need to quote this Romenesko post, because it’s lingered in my mind for several days:
Many bloggers see Josh Marshall‘s Polk Award as vindication of their enterprise, writes Noam Cohen — “that anyone can assume the mantle of reporting on the pressing issues affecting the nation and the world, with the imprimatur of a mainstream media outlet or not.” Marshall says of bloggers: “I think of us as journalists; the medium we work in is blogging. We have kind of broken free of the model of discrete articles that have a beginning and end. Instead, there are an ongoing series of dispatches.”
Many times I’ve written about the need for journalists to blog because I think journalists need to get away from — at least online — from just repurposing what they do in print into the new kind of web journalism.
Web journalism is more raw, more conversational and makes immediacy and relevance more important than crafting the perfect, complete package.