Archive for January, 2011

Ongo: a good start for paid social news but far from perfect

January 26, 2011

As one who has devoted a significant amount of time researching new business models and news platforms, I  was pleased to see the debut of Ongo.  According to this PaidContent.Org post, Ongo is a social news site that combines aggregation and paywalls.  Ongo has significant backing from some major newspaper companies, including the New York Times Co, Washington Post and Gannett.  This is the first effort I’m aware of that harnesses socialization, but also adds a payment component.

This is an excellent start, but in my opinion this model/product still misses the mark in many ways.  First, this is a destination site.  The product appears to be an aggregator of social news much like Flipboard.  Aggregation in many ways is an old notion because it is predicated on the idea that people are seeking the news, rather than news finding the reader as often occurs on the Social Web environment.

The second problem with Ongo is subscription.  Seeking to charge for online content is good.  A subscription model, however, is just a tired retread of a print business model.  Social news consumption comes from multiple sources.  The ability to pay for a single piece of content is needed.  Micropayments were in high demand just two years ago, but there seems to be a sudden hesistancy on newspaper publishers’ part to experiment with micropayments.  Newspapers have not given micropayments a fair chance in earnest despite the widespread success of micropayments for other types of media content, such as music files and mobile ringtones.

I firmly believe that micropayments can succeed for newspapers.  The Graybeal & Hayes’ “Modified News Micropayment Model” outlines four drivers- socialization, microearning, hyperlocal focus and a centralized banking system- that would allow micropayments to work for newspapers.

I wonder what incentive would-be users of Ongo have to subscribe.  In the Graybeal & Hayes model we suggest using foreign currencies or points rather than real dollars and cents because it helps to remove the anxiety involved in the consumer purchasing decision.  We also suggest that the ability to microearn is a vital factor.  None of that is in the Ongo model that I’m aware of.  I’m basing my evaluation on the press materials because I do not have an Ongo account yet.  (Update: According to this Gigaom post , Ongo will provide credits to users who recommend the service to would-be new users.  Credits for article referral, however, would be much more beneficial.  In essence, micropayment and microearning is still missing and sorely needed. Also, thanks to Rachel Stults for giving me trial access to the site. I’m looking forward to trying it out.)

In some ways, placing content on a new platform may actually hurt the major newspaper companies investing in it.  In a recent study I did with Amy Sindik* published in the current issue of the Journal of Media Business Studies we found that brand loyalty increases user likelihood to adopt micropayments for online newspapers.  Brands matter.  Brand names like The New York Times or Washington Post carry far more weight than Ongo. The Times fared quite nicely, in fact.  Survey participants indicated a greater willingness to pay for Times content online than any other newspaper.

Ongo has tremendous potential, especially for establishing a mindset for paid social news.  I, for one, will be watching closely its development throughout the year.


*Sindik, A., & Graybeal, G. (2011).  Newspaper micropayments and Millennial Generation acceptance: A brand loyalty perspective.  Journal of Media Business Studies, 8(1), 10-20

*An article about the Graybeal & Hayes “Modified News Micropayment Model” is currently in press in the International Journal on Media Management.

Who to Watch in 2011

January 6, 2011

“Innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have become buzz words that are loosely jockeyed about when describing the changing nature of journalism.  You know, you’ll hear “newspapers are horrible innovators” on one side of the coin or “journalists need to develop an entrepreneurial spirit” on the other.  These words often appear again and again on both sides of the digital media debate.  The need for innovation, the need for experimentation among news organizations and traditional legacy media is clear; just as evident is the desire to develop new ways of thinking among would-be startups.  With that in mind, I wanted to provide a list of a few people and organizations worth watching this year for their efforts in social media, news, or digital content.  Some are familiar names and faces from conferences I’ve attended, while others are people I’ve never met. These efforts in entrepreneurship and innovation are worth keeping an eye on in 2011.  Any of these have the potential to be game -changers in a big way:

  • Ingmar Miedema: The Dutch businessman contacted Jameson Hayes and I about our Modified News Micropayment Model.  We’ve been in discussions with him about a number of ventures, including an effort to launch the model.  You’ll want to keep an eye on the Netherlands and Europe as Ingmar’s innovative platform comes alive this year.
  • CarrotPay: This Hong Kong-based company also has a “digital wallet” type technology that would enable many aspects of our model to work.  Ricky Rand’s company has been hard at work trying to get news organizations to use his innovative (there’s that word again!) software.
  • Jim Moroney & the Dallas Morning News:  We first heard Moroney speak at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last year. He said that newspapers must do something differently than the status quo and figure out ways to monetize content. The turn of the year brought action as Moroney unveiled new digital pricing structures for the Dallas Morning News.
  • Susanne Rust & HearSay: This Knight Fellow’s project is a social news game that combines points and a rewards system for news consumption on mobile devices, sort of a Foursquare of news.  Aside from a clear way to monetize the content, in many ways this platform would be a ripe avenue to launch the mobile modified news micropayment model we called for in our original paper (note: this opens a PDF).
  • Pinyadda: We really look forward to seeing what this Boston start-up has to offer because the concept of a personalized social news platform really resonates with myself and my micropayment co-author.  This site seems to harness many of the drivers of our model so we hope it is successful.
  • Krissy Clark: Another 2010 Knight Fellow, who studied the digital humanities during her time at Stanford and launched projects surrounding location aware storytelling.  As a former journalist, I love the use of social media to tell journalistic stories and the audacity that “you can click on the world.” Her website is
  • New York Times:  As the “The Gray Lady” moves its online content behind paywalls, the rest of the news industry will be watching and awaiting the results. I firmly believe that the Times’ effort to charge for content will succeed. Research I did with another University of Georgia colleague, Amy Sindik, found that Millennials were more likely to pay for the Times online than any other newspaper we studied (the Sindik & Graybeal article is in press in the Journal of Media Business Studies).  The Times‘ has a strong enough brand and reputation for quality journalism with content you simply cannot get anywhere else. These are factors that will influence consumers’ willingness to pay for digital content. Nevertheless, the Times experiment could be a harbinger for the rest of the industry considering paywalls and paid content strategies.
  • PayPal: The largest site for electronic commerce has added micropayments and partnered with Facebook. This could go a long way in increasing the popularity and use of micropayments.
  • Other Knight Fellows:  Quite a few of the 2010 Knight Fellows worked on projects with synergies to our work. John Duncan developed as an effort to find a way to get people to pay for content, chiefly radio news reports. Andrew Finlayson studied mobile, video, social media and the Semantic web and chronicled his search for a new viable business model on, while Gabriel Sama’s Thinking Strategically slides (note: links to a PDF) are worth taking a look at (his “DNA of a publication” on slides 43 and 44 is spot on).  We have a hunch that some of these Fellows’ efforts will prove fruitful and that more could come to fruition as a result. We look forward to seeing what else they accomplish and produce in the digital media, journalism and social media realms.
  • John Paton: The CEO of the Journal Register Group has been leading the digital-first charge for newspapers.  Like Moroney, we saw Paton speak at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last year.  He’s an energizing force in an industry often assailed for inertia, a leader not afraid to make sweeping changes. He’s had success with his in 2010 and will be worth following to see if he can duplicate his successes in 2011.

There are many other great minds, dynamic personalities and driven companies hard at work whose efforts could radically alter the Internet and our online media consumption habits as we know them. I, for one, am excited about what changes are in store in 2011, whether they originate from one of the above or not. I look forward to seeing what the new year has in store for social media, journalism and paid digital content strategies. Feel free to join in the conversation and add to the list.

Of biscuits and basketball

January 4, 2011

Not all sports promotions are created equally.  Bojangles’ biscuits promotion at UNC men’s basketball team home games is one example of a successful sports marketing gimmick.  When UNC’s team scores 100 points or more, fans can get two sausage biscuits for a buck the next morning at participating Triangle-area Bojangles. There are several reasons the promotion has been so successful over the years.  I’d like to highlight a few:

1)North Carolina company. Bojangles’ headquarters are located in Charlotte, N.C. and the fried chicken chain got its start in eastern North Carolina. There are a lot of Bojangles in the Triangle region, including one a short 15-minute drive from the Smith Center arena. Thus, Bojangles resonates with North Carolina fans because it is a North Carolina company with a strong following in the market where the promotion is held.

2)Affordability. I don’t have access to company data so I have no idea how much money Bojangles makes/loses on the promotion, what they paid for the promotion, or how many UNC fans actually take them up on the offer. But the fact is that the prize give-away amounts to less than $1 in value.

3)Fun. The promotion is fun. The crowds love it because it gives fans a reason to stick around for what is usually a lopsided  blowout win. When the score hovers in the mid to high 90s, crowds predictably will start the “We want biscuits!” chant.  In Sunday’s victory, UNC starter Dexter Strickland hit a free throw in the final minute to put the team at the century mark.  Usually, however, a seldom-used reserve is the one to hit the shot to kick in the contest results.  Dewey Burke even earned the nickname “Biscuits” by being clutch in delivering the Bojangles promotion reward.

4)Longevity. The promotion has been around for several years and only applies to home games, but that doesn’t stop Tar Heel fans from chanting for biscuits even when they’re on the road.  When UNC blew out Hofstra in San Juan, the biscuit chant returned, prompting point guard Larry Drew to tell a reporter after the game “if they want biscuits, who are we not to give the people biscuits?”  The Bojangles promotion resonates with Tar Heel fans and has definitely had staying power.


Inside Carolina basketball

January 3, 2011

A front row view of emerging Tar Heel standouts like freshman Harrison Barnes and a seat next to Eric Montross are perks of Adam Lucas' job.

Adam Lucas may have the best job in America.  Tar Heel fans certainly think so.  Adam gets to write about Carolina basketball.  He’s the ultimate UNC basketball insider. He gets to travel with the team, interview coaches and athletes and get access to the inner workings of one of the nation’s winningest college basketball programs. He writes columns, tweets during the game, does radio broadcasts and has published numerous books. Adam works hard, has an unwavering love for Carolina-lina and deserves the success he has at such a privileged perch (I first heard the name “Adam Lucas” before he became a Tar Heel staple. After my first year of college, I had an internship at a small community newspaper in Cary, N.C. and then-Sports Editor Lisa Coston would rave about this talented young sportswriter from Cary.)

Tar Heel fans like myself eagerly await his postgame columns.  As soon as the final buzzer sounds, I can’t wait to read Adam’s take that puts the win or loss (let’s face it it’s Tar Heel basketball so more often a win than a loss) in perspective.  After going to a blowout win at the Smith Center today, I came back to read Adam’s light column about the fun victory in which 8 Tar Heel players scored in double figures.

Adam Lucas is a testament for aspiring journalists that you can carve out a nice career through hard work, sticking with a niche, and a little bit of luck and timing.  I could never be Adam Lucas.  Sure, I could do what Adam does.  In fact, I have written about Carolina basketball. I’ve covered a few games, interviewed some of the players, sat in Roy Williams’ post-game conferences and even had an insider’s perspective into Carolina basketball (I was an usher at the Smith Center for six years).

But unlike Adam, I never stuck with sports journalism.  I broke into the newspaper business as a sportswriter when I won first place for column writing in the News and Observer’s “Sportswriter For a Day” contests when I was a teenager in middle and high school.  I covered prep sports for the Herald-Sun’s Raleigh Extra while I was in high school.  Darryl Robinson, the men’s basketball coach, at Leesville Road High School even nicknamed me “Scoop.”  I covered UNC Wilmington sports for the college newspaper and did some freelance work for the Morning Star before moving away from sports.  I love sports and I love being a fan of sports. When covering sports became my job, I lost some of the thrill, the fandom that comes in rooting for a team, and carrying those biases inherent in being a fan.  For the most part, I left sportswriting in college and have never looked back.

Sitting in the mezzanine level at the Smith Center today, however, brought back a flood of Tar Heel memories.  I wanted to share just a few of my highlights from covering Carolina and the inside perspective:

*Hortense Raynor. Can you say “Super Fan”? I first met Hortense when I was a UNC senior who traveled to Indianapolis for the Final Four. I wrote a journal and provided a “color” sidebar piece for the Herald-Sun.  I interviewed Hortense at a pre-game Fan Zone. She was decked in Tar Heel gear from head to toe. I would see Hortense at other games over the years. She is the quintessential Carolina fan.

*Donald Thrower. The proud UNC pharmacy alum owns several pharmacies in Gaston County. He also collects and sells a slew of Tar Heel merchandise. When I worked for the Gaston Gazette, any feature story about an ACC event would often feature Thrower or his store. Thrower even sprung to have seniors from the 2009 National Championship team come to town for an exhibition game and to sign autographs at his store (now, when I drive back to NC, I always stop and buy some Tar Heel swag from Thrower’s store). Gaston County has deep Tar Heel roots, including being the home of standout basketball player James Worthy and women’s head coach Sylvia Hatchell.  Gaston County also claims the birthplace of UNC system president emeritus William Friday.

*Road warriors. I had a front row press pass seat on Dec. 3, 2005 as then-freshmen Tyler Hansbrough and Bobby Frasor and crew went into Rupp Arena and upset the homestanding Kentucky Wildcats.  I sat a few feet away as David Noel drove baseline and unleashed a nasty dunk en route to an 83-79 UNC victory.

*Triumphant last game. Months earlier, I had ushered my last game as a full time usher at the Smith Center: the 2005 season finale. After Marvin Williams’ put back to give the Heels a dramatic come-back win over rival Dook and the ACC regular season title, the crowd erupted. That was the loudest I have ever heard the Smith Center. Students rushed the court. The team would go on to win the National Championship a month later. Pretty sweet ending to an ushering career that included the dreadful 8-20 season.

Students swarm the Smith Center floor to celebrate UNC's win over Dook that sealed the 2005 ACC regular season championship.

*Traditions galore: When you arrive 2 1/2 hours before a game starts, you notice lots of little things. You memorize the words to all the fight songs you’ve sung over and over, you look for the 12-13 minute mark when the team does its warm-up-slide-to-the-floor-run-to-tunnel-routine, you know what songs are played over the speakers, you look forward to pre-game rituals like Danny Green or Leslie McDonald dancing to “Jump Around” at tip-off.  I always thought it would be neat to write a book about what it was like to be an usher.  Obviously, I never did. haha.


When I was an usher our standard gear was khaki pants, white shirt, the blue Smith Center vest and our name tag. Cute Carolina girls like Jen were optional. 🙂

*They call me u-s-h-e-r.  As an usher, you develop a nuance for customs.  There’s a set way about being an usher. At UNC it meant arriving at a certain time, wearing the proper outfit and sticking to an assigned section.  For several years, I was the usher in Section 107-108, which is behind the visiting team’s bench. I enjoyed the conversations with the regulars but also had to cater to the friends and family of the opposition.  Mostly, as an usher, I liked being in the know. This appealed to my reporter’s instinct. As an usher, we were always prepped on what celebrities or star athletes would be in the crowd the day of the game, what special events were planned (banner unfurled, player jersey retired, athlete or team recognized, etc.), what giveaway was taking place (T-shirts and so forth) so we were informed. We also would hear rumors about behind-the-scenes team issues (especially during those tumultuous Doherty years). But mostly I enjoyed the camaraderie. I had the privilege of working with some fine ushers and Smith Center event staff.  It was a joy to play a small part in making the Carolina Dynasty run.

Since those days, I’ve gone back to being just a fan.  Of course, being a Carolina basketball fan entails being a little more intense than your average Fan at Generic U. Actually, a lot more intense.  Sections of my house are devoted to prized UNC memorabilia. Trips are taken to watch the team.  Plans are made and set around game days. Students get tired of the baby blue-clad professor rambling on and on about Tar Heel basketball. Doesn’t he know this is Georgia, where football is what matters?

The outfit I wore into my classroom the day after UNC won the 2009 national championship. Not everyday one gets to wear a baby blue blazer to work.

As the new year dawns, so too comes the start of ACC play. I’ll head back down south, away from Tobacco Road. The UNC merchandise is ready to don. The team ready to be cheered on to victory.

In two short weeks, UNC will come to town to take on the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. I’ll be there. Clapping and cheering. Shouting words of encouragement for Harrison Barnes. High-fiving my neighbor at an emphatic John Henson block or dunk.

I won’t be poring over stat sheets or seeking the right words to encapsulate a post-game analysis.

Adam Lucas has that covered. He’s one heel of a guy.

Being just a fan has its perks. A walk-on snapped this blurry pic of Roy Williams and I in the hotel lobby in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On food, journalism, media and sharing

January 1, 2011

Homemade New Year's Eve meal: apple hash from Rachael Ray, Tofurky vegetarian roast and gravy with sweet potatoes, carrots and onions; Mexican cornbread and Hoppin' John from Mrs. Wilkes' cookbook and sweet tea. Simple photo snapped on my iPhone.

I am a foodie.  Even though for two years I’ve had a restrictive pescetarian diet (I’ll eat fish and veggies but no meat or chicken), I still enjoy eating a nice meal at a fine dining restaurant (particularly when I go to Vegas, which over the years has become a gourmet food-lover’s paradise).  I enjoy perusing the cook books friends and family members have given me over the years and experimenting with new recipes and dishes.  I love sharing about my food adventures and reading about others’ culinary delights. Over the holidays, I’ve done quite a bit of cooking, reading and of course, eating.  I’ve also had time to reflect on the shifting nature of how we write, read and share about what we eat. I wanted to write a short post about this topic. So, here it goes.

A lot has changed in the 6 years since I put down my critic’s pen as one of four reporters on the The Herald-Sun’s staff fortunate enough to write the weekly restaurant review. We strictly adhered to the Association of Food Journalists’ critics guidelines which meant we went anonymously, we went more than once and the paper always picked up the tab. Since we covered the Triangle region, we always had to consult with each other to make sure we had geographic balance and ethnic cuisine balance from week to week (we wouldn’t want, for example, 4 straight Chapel Hill restaurant reviews or 4 straight articles about barbecue joints).  I loved the gig, which I got because of my love for food and having a really cool mentor who offered me the job after he reliqinquished it.  I probably wrote a few dozen reviews over the course of about three years serving as a food critic. I’ve been home for the holidays visiting my parents and we’ve gone to two of the restaurants I once reviewed.  One of the neat perks of the job is seeing your reviews framed on the restaurant walls, even years later.  Bali Hai even has a link to my review on their home page to this day still.

I always tell people I garnered more feedback as a food critic than I did as a local government reporter, which is true.  I always found it a little unsettling that readers got more upset if you wrote something bad about their favorite restaurant than writing about a matter that could directly impact their health and well being, such as a zoning decision to allow a new potentially negative business or voting to raise property taxes.  People are passionate about food, however.  I was a food critic before the Food Network made celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay or Paula Deen household names.  I was a food critic before cooking shows were commonplace on network, cable and syndicated television.  I was a food critic before reality television shows like Top Chef (my personal fave) took us behind the scenes of restaurants and cooking.  In short, I was a food critic before anyone could be a food critic and writing about food was chic.

Fast forward to the present. Now, through the proliferation of social media, anyone can blog about, tweet about, and converse about food, cooking and diet.  I couldn’t be happier about the change.  There’s still a place for the privileged few media elites to write restaurant reviews. In major cities like New York or Los Angeles, a critic’s review can make or break a new venture among a crowded, cut-throat culinary scene.  In Atlanta, I still read reviews from the AJC or Creative Loafing, but I also look for advice from fellow users on Urbanspoon.

Shrimp cacciatore from Casa Carbone, a longtime, popular Italian restaurant in Raleigh, N.C..

In the past two weeks, I’ve cooked recipes I found through Twitter (including this veggie recipe one of my former students shared), saw on Rachael Ray’s television show, and got from old fashioned print cookbooks (Mrs. Wilkes, Paula Deen, Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet and a few others).  I also downloaded my first e-reader cookbook using the Kindle app and bought Mario Batali’s interactive iPad app, which has videos to go along with its recipes.  I follow Twitter accounts of some of my favorite celebrity food personalities like Padma Lakshi and Tom Collichio of Top Chef and the tweets of local restaurants I frequent.  I enjoy reading the food blogs that some of my former students created for class, particularly Cody Thompson’s blog and Remy Thurston’s Beats and Carrots (class assignment) and Thurst 4 Food.  I snap pics of dishes I make or dine on and post to Twitter. I salivate at the delicious meals enjoyed by my friend and followers who do the same.

So much has changed in such a short amount of time.  As a critic, anonymity was extremely valued.  Students like Cody and Remy, however, put themselves front and center. There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, in some ways it’s refreshing to see their passion and personality come across on the cyberpages of their blogs.  Cooking, and eating, are both labors of love that should be shared.  Now, thanks to simple tools and technologies, anyone can be a cook.  Anyone can be a critic. Anyone can easily share in that conversation.  As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.

Happy cooking and bon appetit!