Archive for March, 2010

Case Study in Innovation: Chicago Tribune

March 26, 2010

The Tribune Co. may be locked in a bankruptcy battle, but that hasn’t stopped the Trib from conducting some innovative experiments in journalism.  For starters, the Chicago Tribune has recently hired an innovation editor.

Long before Rob Karwath stepped foot on North Michigan Ave., however, the Trib has undertaken some nifty efforts to attract younger readers.  The Chicago Tribune’s RedEye is geared primarily toward Windy City residents in their 20s and 30s, while theMash is a news product for teenagers.

Recently, RedEye Web editor Steph Yiu spoke with my intro to news writing and reporting lab about some of the cool, exciting, trailblazing things they’re doing online.  We covered everything from the RedEye’s Daily Google WAVE to building a loyal audience of readers and connecting with the community through the use of social media outlets like Twitter (follow Yiu @crushgear) during the hour-long Skype call.  RedEye even has established its own social media posse.

As an in-lab assignment, I asked my students to write down short 140-character “tweets” as if they were posting on Twitter about Yiu’s talk. Here are some of the highlights of her talk, through my students’ pens:

-“RedEye is a community of readers, blog followers, twitterers and Facebook users”

-“RedEye is a genuine and community focused news source, check it out!”

-“Build a following by being genuine, responding to your readers, and use all tools to find your niche (Google, Twitter, etc.)”

-“Interact and engage with your readers, says Steph. Got to ask questions and personalize comments and statuses. Great advice!”

-“Steph said the best thing about learning about social media is that it’ll help us get a job! Woohoo! Better keep learning.”

-“90% web traffic for RedEye from Google or social media”

-“Posing questions instead of just posting headlines gets the audience involved.”

-” ‘I would like to say that we are perhaps the first newspaper to have a social media posse.’- Steph Yiu ”

-“Newspapers are all about community, from letters to the editor to social networking.”

-“Google Wave= RedEye jumped on about the week after it launched. Readers taught them pretty much how to use it.”

-“For newspapers that focus on a younger readership, social media is key.”

-“Social networking takes the Letters to the Editor to a new level of community for every topic and interest.”

-“I finally feel like I’m starting to understand the purpose of social media and how it all works. Thanks Steph Yiu!”


Steph Yiu chats with my journalism lab via Skype


A sign of the Times?: Paying for news online

March 23, 2010

If this were a news article, would you pay to read it?

If so, under what conditions would you consider it? Does it matter what brand is presenting the news or the source of information when weighing your willingess to pay for content online?  How much would you be willing to pay?

These are just a few of the questions I’ve been studying in recent months.  Regardless of whether you think you should pay for news content on the Web, a majority of newspaper executives plan to start charging online in the next year.

As a result, the debate over implementing micropayments, where a user pays  a small fee per article, has resurfaced in recent months.  As a journalism scholar, I’ve been examining micropayments from many angles.

First, I’ve been working with colleagues of mine in the Grady College to gauge consumer willingness to pay for online content through a series of surveys and experiments.

Earlier this month, my co-author Amy Sindik presented findings of one of our studies at the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication Mid-Winter conference in Norman, Oklahoma.

The findings of our study, “Newspaper Micropayments and Millennial Generation Acceptance: A Brand Loyalty Perspective” are quite promising for The New York Times, which plans to charge for content next year.

The Times website is a trusted brand, and that brand trust has a statistically significant relationship to willingness to pay for Times’ content online.  Overall, The New York Times itself is a powerful brand that fosters consumer loyalty and gratifications.  Overall, The New York Times clearly appears to be the most strategically poised brand name newspaper to implement a paid system.  Given that consumers are more willing to pay for online content from the Times than any other newspaper, the implication might be that if doesn’t work for The New York Times, it can’t work for anybody.

On the flip end, our study suggests that local newspapers may have a tougher time nudging consumers toward a willingness to pay for online news.  Only 3% of respondents indicated a willingness to pay for content from the local newspaper.

Regardless, local newspapers will want to watch with interest as The New York Times’ foray into online content plays out over the next year.  As an industry leader, and arguably the most viable and credible newspaper brand, the success or failure of The New York Times payment effort could be a harbinger for the rest of the industry.  Our study suggests that readers are more likely to pay for online content from the Times than any other local, regional or national newspaper.

The plan from the Old Gray Lady, however,  is a “metered” model, not a micropayment model.  There are many experts who believe micropayments will never work.  I’m not convinced.  Under the right circumstances, micropayments could succeed.  I’ll outline how next month in Austin.

Along with my co-author, Jameson L. Hayes, I’ll present The Case for a Modified News Micropayment Model on the Social Web at the International Symposium on Online Journalism.

In the meantime, feel free to start a conversation and join the discussion on the future of online news payments.

Fun with Tweetups

March 10, 2010

I just got back from The News and Observer’s first Tweetup, held at a bar in downtown Raleigh, N.C.  It was a blast.  I was impressed with the event, even though I’m hardly the type of person the event was designed to attract.  Since about 10 months out of the year I call Athens, Georgia home I was a bit of an anomaly at a gathering of Triangle Twitter users.  From the start, I had many motivations for attending. I’m a Raleigh native and lifelong N & O reader who still reads the paper regularly from afar.  I teach journalism and incorporate social media into my curriculum.  I’m a former reporter. I’m regularly engaged in social media.  I use social media for personal and professional reasons. I  conduct research into how news outlets are using social media.  I’m also a sucker for a tweetup. 

It’s nice to have real-world connections with online “friends” and “followers” and to have face-to-face interactions to go along with the online ones.  When I first learned about the tweetup from my former colleague @GinnySkal and saw that I’d be in town since the social gathering took place a few nights before a conference I’m attending in Chapel Hill I knew I’d go. I’m glad I did.

Personally, it was nice to see old friends and co-workers albeit briefly. I ran into an old classmate from high school whom I hadn’t seen in years, and we caught up.

But I also thought my hometown newspaper’s inaugural effort to connect with its SM-using public was well done, from a promotional and marketing standpoint.  Well-known N&O Twitter users had stations set up throughout the bar where users could meet and talk IRL with the reporters whose work and tweets they regularly read.  I spoke with the N&O’s food writer @andreaweigl, who runs the Mouthful food blog; Retial/Coupons expert @sue_stock (from whom I won an “Instant Bargains” book), and the paper’s @techjunkieblog tweeter/blogger.  Each reporter’s station was equipped with their business cards and promotional cards with info on the individual Twitter user on one side, and a list of prominent News and Observer reporters’ Twitter handles on the other.

The paper also gave away books, DVDs, Carolina Hurricanes hockey tickets and other prizes to users who used various social media, from retweeting tweets about the #nandotweetup to using a new geo-based Triangle specific service called TriOut.

Attendees could also write a short tweet-esque message, including their Twitter names on a dry erase white board and have their photo taken by an N&O photographer.  Presumably, this will be turned into a photo gallery of the event.  A screen displayed the live Twitter feed of users mentioning the #nandotweetup hashtag.

For reporters, it was a great opportunity to meet readers.  For readers, it was great to see the names behind the bylines, to socialize with reporters and provided an opportunity to ask questions of the reporters and editors (Even the top editor, John Drescher, was there for a while).

The whole event reminded me a great deal of the Raleigh newspaper’s efforts in the early 1990s to engage with the local community, through the creation of a local Bulletin Board Service called NandO.  A small, fun group emerged from that screeching slow dialup site (remember modems?) and a community formed organically. Users, myself being one of them, regularly organized social gatherings around the Triangle.  This was back when the paper was owned by the Daniels’ family.  Ironically, the innovative, trailblazing success of NandO played a large roll in the paper being sold to McClatchy.

The point is that everything old is new again.  Once again, my hometown newspaper is making a genuine effort to connect with its readers and foster a true community.  That was the right approach 15+ years ago.  That’s the right approach now.

Social media, when used correctly, can be a powerful tool for journalists. But social media can also be a heckuva lot of fun too.  The #nandotweetup illustrated both.

Kudos, N&O on a job well done on the tweetup.  I hope I’m in town for the next one.