Archive for February, 2011

SoCon11 Recap 2: The tablet takeover

February 5, 2011

The second breakout session I attended was led by James Harris, co-founder of Elemental Interactive and focused more or less on the social sharing of news content.

According to Harris, 2011 will be “The Year of The Tablet” as about 30 new makes and models flood the marketplace, joining the likes of the iPad.  According to a Forrester study, one-third of all U.S. online customers will own a tablet computer by 2015.  Harris believes that the future of all media will be digital, expertly curated and highly personalized. To Harris, the combination of social magazines and tablet computers leads to a state of reading Nirvana.  He said that backward-looking, month-old printed mail magazine subscriptions will be rendered close to useless.

Harris said that a magazine in today’s day and age should be real time, current and fresh. He considers tablet (at this point really iPad) apps Flud, Flipboard and Newsmix as social browsers (I would add OnGo News to this list) and contends that social browsing allows us to rethink the magazine and newspaper formats.

I agree with the basic premise that Harris lays out about the significance and spread of socially curated news content, as well as the emergence of tablet computers in the coming year.  My overall impression of this session, however, was mixed.

For starters, there was much debate and disagreement over what a magazine is.  I chimed in that while there are standard conventions associated with design of newspapers, magazines and newsmagazines there are also standard conventions associated with the new platform that is a tablet.  The tablet is literally a hands-on device.  The ability to touch, swipe, move and shake adds a much more value-added user experience to the consumption of news.  Murdoch’s The Daily, although only days in its infancy, is a perfect example of combining traditional news conventions with the conventions of the iPad platform.  When it comes to interactivity, The Daily offers an immersive hands-on news consumption experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen or held before.  Simply put, it’s awesome.

The other issue I have about this session is I feel the economics of such “social browsers” was glossed over.  An audience member asked how do you pay for social news.  There wasn’t really a good answer.  But as I’ve written on here before, economics are important.  The Daily is an important first-mover game-changer but I doubt others will be able to replicate its success as what I believe will be a financially-viable iPad-only publication. When discussing the economics of these social curation magazines, there are two points to keep in mind:

1)Legacy media are already getting in on this game.  OnGo News is a joint collaboration of The Times Co., Washington Post Co. and Gannett, aka The Big Boys of News.  The New York Times will soon launch News.Me, their social news answer to Murdoch’s The Daily.  (Harris focused much of his talk on Flipboard).

2)Paywalls will fundamentally change social curation.  Third-party devices like Flipboard effectively poach content from other sources.  In some instances, these are partnerships with willing media partners.  In other instances, it is not.  Once content from The New York Times goes behind a paywall, it will be incredibly difficult if not impossible to socially curate and share that content on a device like Flipboard.  Social curation as we know it is predicated on the ease of disseminating online content that is presently free.  Once you have to pay for that content (and all indications are that you will have to increasingly pay for more and more of the online content we love) , the game changes.  Once the online media eco-system shifts from free to fee, you need platforms, devices and a workable business model that will support the drastic change from the status quo.

Of course, that is an entirely different debate and one  in which the industry does not agree.  I continue to advocate for micropayments, specifically in the modified form I co-developed in the Graybeal & Hayes’ “Modified News Micropayment Model.”  (in press in The International Journal on Media Management).

I welcome discussion on these points.  Thanks to James Harris for sharing his knowledge and starting the debate at SoCon11.

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SoCon11 Recap 1: Recapturing the journalism

February 5, 2011

As far as journalism goes, CNN’s Victor Hernandez was the star of the just completed social networking conference known as SoCon. 

SoCon11 was sponsored by Kennessaw State University’s Center for Sustainable Journalism. Despite a journalism center hosting what it billed as the southeast’s premier social networking conference, journalism has never been a central focus best I can tell.  The majority of attendees seem interested in social media marketing, public relations, advertising, entrepreneurship, startups and business ventures (big and small). So, it was refreshing to have a journalist from one of the biggest distributors of television news in our own backyard take center stage.

Hernandez was a member of the keynote panel, and delivered a breakout session about “platform agnostic” journalistic storytelling.  I found myself nodding in agreement with what he said more often than not.  As I tweeted, I wish that all of my News Editing students could hear Hernandez’ talk. They will have the opportunity to do so when he is a speaker at the ICONN conference taking place in Athens in March (rescheduled from January because of the snowpocalypse).

Hernandez reaffirmed that Grady’s journalism department  is on the right track with its curriculum. His philosophy about the changing nature of reporting the news is what we preach in News Editing.  The tools his “All Platform Journalists (APJ)’s”  use are what we teach.  As a journalism instructor, it’s nice to know we’re so in tune and aligned with industry practices.  As journalism changes, we change with it.

A few highlights from Hernandez’ session taken mostly from my live-tweets:

-70% of the “platform agnostic” story content produced by Hernandez’ team of “All Platform Journalists” (APJ’s) is aimed at digital.

-Hernandez’ reporters use Kodak zi8 cameras (the exact same as we use in News Editing at Grady)

-Hernandez said that journalists need to know Final Cut Pro, calling it the gold standard of video editing software used in journalism today. “It is an amazing skill to have and will pay back in spades,” Hernandez said. All journalism jobs will require Final Cut skills in the future, Hernandez said. (We teach the very basics of Final Cut in the News Editing course through Digital Literacy videos).

-Social networks and smartphones are “journo’s bff’s” according to Hernandez. “I can’t say enough about (the importance of) social networks,” he said (talk about knowing your audience haha).

-Journalists should come up with different ways to tell stories and avoid the “zombie effect” of going through the motions to tell the same tired-old cliched story that everyone else is offering. (We stress the fundamentals of journalism as storytelling at Grady).

In my department, Mark Johnson gets all the credit for moving Grady forward with its teaching and technology. He advocated the Kodak zi8’s and teaching of Final Cut and designed an entire digital literacy series of “how-to” videos that we’ve incorporated into the redesigned News Editing course.

Mark is a forward-thinking evangelical journalism educator, just as Hernandez is a forward-thinking evangelical journalism practitioner. Both deserve kudos and respect for charting a new path for journalists in the age of social media.

CNN's Victor Hernandez has the right philosophy about creating journalistic content across multiple platforms.

The Daily dose of hands-on news

February 4, 2011

Now that The Daily, the first iPad-only newspaper, has arrived I wanted to provide a quick analysis based on my first impressions.  For starters, the iPad is clearly a game-changer for news designers.  The content is designed specifically for the iPad and the interactivity is impressive.  The Daily  is visually appealing with fun hands-on elements and in-app video streaming.  The Daily gets high marks for its interactivity, design and ease of use.

No offense to those involved in the publication, but the journalistic quality of the content is average at best.  Of course, you get what you pay for.  At 14 cents per issue, I don’t expect the type of quality, explanatory, long-form interpretative journalism that I could find in, say, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.  In pricing The Daily so cheap and devaluing the content it offers, Murdoch may actually be improving the value of his other newspapers.  I’m certainly willing to pay a premium price for content from The Journal.  The Daily dishes up journalism-lite.  But the lack of breadth and depth make for a quick daily read.

In pricing The Daily at 99 cents per week, Rupert Murdoch has effectively invented a new digital business model.  In essence, Murdoch has created a subscription micropayment.  For news content, micropayments are the idea of consumers paying pennies or less per article.  For non-news content, micropayments are usually priced from about $1 to $5.  The iTunes model of charging $1.29 per song download or the mobile modile of selling ringtones for a few bucks are examples of successful media micropayment models.  The Daily, however, offers 100 iPad pages of content per day in a weekly subscription rate of 99 cents.  Subscription strategy meets micropayment price.

The pricing point and iPad-only distribution strategy could very well work. The Daily could prove to be immensely popular and ultimately a success. But what works for one of the world’s biggest media barons does not a successful business model make for the rest of the industry.  While there’s a lot to like about The Daily, the product still remains a destination-seeking site.  You must find the news by downloading the app, pay the subscription and log on and in, rather than news stories finding you through social networks.

I have serious doubts that this app-fueled micropayment-subscription hybrid iPad-exclusive content model could ever work for the majority of the newspaper industry.  Certainly, most of the local daily newspapers with circulations less than 50,000 would lack the resources and capital to create and staff such a publication.  Few, if any, would be able to draw enough readers to justify the ridiculously low pricing point.  This does not even factor in all the non-daily community newspapers with strong print products.

The purpose of offering digital content and digital pricing structures is to obtain new paying customers.  For Murdoch, The Daily will almost certainly achieve that aim.  Other newspapers, with strong print subscribers but few paying online customers, need a platform that will allow them to earn revenue off new readers whose stories find them through the Social Web.  Micropayments are needed.

Imagine this scenario: You are the owner of a community newspaper.  An odd tragedy strikes your town that captures national attention. The national media converge on your town to cover the story, but no media outlet can provide the same level of coverage as you.  Your reporters write compelling, original pieces that no other media outlet carries but the public is clamoring to read.  In essence, your paper has a viral news story.  With a micropayment platform, you could charge a small amount per article.  Suddenly, you have a new revenue stream from thousands of new readers. Granted this is a one-off source and you wouldn’t want to bank on a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence to add money to your coffers, but the principle ideas behind this scenario remain relevant.

The bottom line about The Daily is it is right for Murdoch, (mostly) good for journalism, but the wrong approach for the newspaper industry.

Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing what The Daily continues to offer. I will gladly plunk down 99 cents each week to read it.  No, scratch that.  I will gladly pay the weekly price to experience The Daily.