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July 23, 2014

Nine Questions for the Cusp of 2012: NewsRight, Erin Burnett's Screens, Gail Collins's Emergence & Smart Cookie Arianna

1. Will new NewsRight’s Bigger Carrot, Smaller Stick approach to news content usage win? Today, NewsRight –owned by 29 news companies, and anchored by the Associated Press’ News Registry — goes public. In David Westin, former head of ABC News, NewsRight has a persuasive leader to test its business models. At the outset, it offers three reasons for those using news content to sign up: 1) safe passage from legal challenge for those aggregators questionably using news content; 2) clean content feeds that may make it easier for aggregators to use news content; 3) analytics that provide real-time views of how news content (by topic, person, product and more) is being read across the U.S.. My sense: it’s number three that provides a glimmer of a business model. With no customers signed up at the outset, the big question will be who can make use of those kinds of analytics and how much value they add to anyone’s business. No doubt, the content vat — 60 companies contributing content from 900 sites, with plans to add another 200 sites from 30 additional companies — is impressive. Yet its market model — expect it to first target the Moreovers, Yellow Brixes, Meltwaters and Cisions, all packagers of content of one kind and another — may not yield significant. Westin points to one hopeful line of business: providing single feeds of lots of niched content, if and as product developers (newspaper-based and non-) start creating new products meant for the developing world of ubiquitous smartphone- and tablet-based info access. (More on the role of customer and content data in our lives, in my Nieman column today.)

2. Didn’t CNN’s coverage of the Iowa Caucuses illustrate our screens future? John King has been the King of the Screens, and we can remember when his magic-touch screen seemed wildly innovative. Now in the touch-screen era, it was all screens all night — save Wolf Blitzer’s classic utterance of “OMG” in seeing Romney go up by a single vote — and CNN newbie Erin Burnett brought the right slapstick spirit to the uncertain screencraft. She whooshed one image off one screen on to the next one, sometimes successfully. CNN’s use of data, even as limited as it was for this election, showed how much we’ve moved beyond the world of still print infographics. The marriage of analytics and screens from tablets to livingroom monitors is forever changing how we take in information.

3. If AOL crumbles in one direction or another, what’s the future for smart cookie Arianna Huffington, who has parlayed personality and business model into an enviable perch in American journalism? Who might pick up HuffPo, one of the easiest-to-define business lines in journalism? How much will its relatively low rate of ad return (“The Newsonomics of ARPU” deter buyers? With the emergence of a broad international strategy (10 new editions) – “We’re now re-expanding back into a list of countries”, said CEO Tim Armstrong Tuesday – it becomes a more interesting play.

4. With Alibaba hot on the Yahoo tail, how much should we wonder about the future of big aggregators stocking up on a professional journalists? AJR estimated that Yahoo has hired about 200 journalists and AOL 250 (not counting the Patchers). Those hundreds have produced some pretty good journalism, particularly with sports scoops, and have proven that the term “as first reported by Yahoo,” isn’t a joke. The question of Chinese ownership is a knotty one (interesting Fortune take on American hypocrisy, here), but we have to ask questions about how free a journalistic corps would be under Jack Ma leadership. It might be well and good to uncover U.S. football corruption, and that’s a growth sport itself, but what about wider public policy coverage? For AOL journalists, the questions are even gauzier. With AOL’s deepening financial questions and investor pressure to cut back on non-profit-producing business lines, how long will there jobs be maintained, under current or potential new management/ownership?

5. Won’t be 2012 be the age of All-Access perfecting? Time Inc is among those getting its tablet act together well, with Time Magazine a fairly slick tablet app. In December, the company made a foray at convincing print subscribers that connecting the print sub with digital access is a good idea. The sign-on process is fairly straightforward, and seems to hold session to session, unlike some others. Yet, subscribing to more than one Time Inc. product — Time Magazine and Sunset, for instance — has to be done twice. Expect that kind of obstacle to be eliminated going forward. All-Access will be real all access, made easier for consumers. And All-Access is even trickling down very local as the Monterey (Ca.) County Weekly heralds its all-access availability through public radio sponsorship. Getting All-Access right — pricing, real tablet- and smartphone-appropriate apps, customer ease, giving subscribers cross-title benefits — is one of the biggest tasks for news and magazine publishers this year.

6. How could a single person be empowered to send a message on behalf of the New York Times to eight million people? The Times’ your subscription-is-ending embarrassment email showed the company at its worst in detecting and handling a crisis. My larger question is how, in any scenario, a single person has the unchecked power to send a message to eight million people on behalf of a big brand? The culture of checking and doublechecking (yes, the sorry Judith Miller tragedy aside) is so deeply ingrained in Times’ DNA. Why isn’t it part of the wider culture, especially in the one-click age?

7. What’s more local than language? The Times profiled Wordnik Sunday. It’s an innovative modern language company making the most of digital technology to surface new and real meaning of our living language in this fast-changing age. Noted in the story is that the Times and News Corp’s Smart Money are using Wordnik for glossaries? As local media look for ways to really be more local, knowing and presenting more about place is essential. So what about using something like Wordnik to create local language guides? It’s a small idea, perhaps, but one showing how even local media need to make more use of digital tools if they are to make future claims of relevance to local audiences.

8.Hasn’t Gail Collins turned out to be a just-right-for-the-times replacement for Frank Rich? Rich’s rich prose and panoramic view often left us breathless in its sweep, and well deserved a Pulitzer. Yet Collins — a New Yorker who recently pointed out that “John McCain came in fourth in 2008, with the support of 15,500 Iowans. This is approximately the number of people who live on my block” – has brought a Hee-Haw sensibility perfectly suited to the Wonderlandia of the Republican primary scene.

9. With a call-out to Ken Kesey, isn’t 2012 the year when you’re either on the cloud … of off it?

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