Team Digital vs Team Mainstream Media. Not

Nicholas Lemann’s pre-Christmas review of George Brock’s book on news journalism in the digital age is worth reading in full. I have picked out  a couple of extracts that struck me as particularly telling.

First, he takes on the pointless zealotry that exists on both sides of debate:

Roughly speaking, the discussants divide into two teams: Team Digital, whose members are quick to predict the imminent and not especially tragic death of the familiar news organizations, and Team Mainstream Media, whose members look hopefully at every new development for evidence to support their wish for a restoration of the good old days. When Buzzfeed raises millions of dollars from venture-capital firms, or a member of the public with an iPhone produces the first picture of a breaking news event and posts it to a global audience, Team Digital proclaims victory. When the New York Times introduces a reasonably successful online subscription system, Team Mainstream Media does.

Second, he introduces (to me at least) an interesting nugget: US newspaper sales fell by 55 per cent from 1950 to 2008. Reflecting Brock’s argument, he says this decline mattered little when economies (and advertising rates) continued to prosper; and when publishing’s barrier to entry remained prohibitively expensive.

Lemann writes:

 Protected from competition, news organizations, for one historical season, were able to assemble, print and deliver a big collection of information people wanted and could not get from anywhere else – sports scores, movie times, stock prices, as well as more conventional news – into an unbreakable package. This allowed them to charge substantial fees to advertisers and subscribers.

If there’s perhaps one thing Team Digital and Team Mainstream Media can agree on it’s that the “unbreakable package” has now been broken.

You can read the full review here. More about Brock’s book here.

Why it’s hard for The Times to leverage social media behind a paywall

Two moves at The Times and Sunday Times — the closure of the Times Opinion Tumblr and the introduction of a retweeting tool — prompted me to write something for Press Gazette about how social media does and doesn’t work behind a paywall.

Here’s the crux of the piece:

Back in the mid/late 2000s search engines drove most people to The Times, accounting for up to 70 per cent of the traffic at one time, according to one senior editorial executive. That was pre-paywall and that was before social began to offer a serious alternative source of high volume traffic.

News International concluded that it couldn’t turn those passing eyeballs into a viable commercial model – and the majority of newspaper groups either side of the Atlantic have come to a similar conclusion.

But a subscription model doesn’t negate the need to create buzz around your journalism. After all, it’s the quality of that journalism that you are selling and to do that effectively you have to show some leg, you have to give non-subscribers a taste of what they are missing, you have to give some of it away for free.

You need to use social media effectively to spread the word. That means no matter how many staffers retweet a cracking page one splash, the link needs to lead somewhere that’s not “sign up here”.

You can read The Times, paywalls and social media here.


How to use Tumblr

Tumblr is a blogging platform but it isn’t WordPress. If that feels like a distinction so minor that it’s not worth making, I do think the differences between the two platforms, however small, do matter.

Tumblr tends to be more visual, more instant; less of the analysis, more of the bite-sized. Of course all these rules are there to be broken but those truths about the platform most likely explain why lots of people (and by people I mean newspapers, magazines, broadcasters etc) are struggling to work out how to use it.

As a counterpoint, here are four traditional media outlets that are using it well:

  1. Financial Times
  2. The Economist
  3. The Times
  4. New Statesman

In my Press Gazette column this week I explain why they have mastered Tumblr.

How the iPad is extending the Guardian’s web day

Nine out of every ten visits to the Guardian website from tablet devices still come via an Apple iPad. This compares to 98 per cent two years ago and is despite the proliferation of Android-based alternatives since then (Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire are distant runners-up).

That was just one of the figures provided by Anthony Sullivan, the paper’s group product manager for journalism products during last Thursday’s Press Gazette News on the Move conference.

He also demonstrated how tablet usage was altering web consumption patterns across the weekday. Note the large green peak in the graph below which shows heavy tablet usage during the evening.


By cross-referencing the means of access (mobile network, WiFi, fixed network etc) the Guardian is able to make an educated guess that most of that tablet consumption is happening at home rather than on the move.

How? Well, according to Sullivan, 93 per cent is coming via WiFi which strongly suggests sofa/kitchen table/bed rather than train/bus/office.

Anthony intended to show this and four associated graphs during the session I ran at the conference but issues with the audio visual — familiar to any regular conference goer — meant he was restricted to describing what we couldn’t see.

Belatedly, you can see all five graphs over on the Press Gazette.

And you can watch the entirety of News on Move on this Google+ hangout. The panel session in question, starts at around 23 minutes and 50 seconds.

Finally, it is worth revisiting the FT graph I posted last week which shows some really interesting weekend consumption patterns brought about by increased mobile device usage. Both trends are reflected on other news and current affairs websites.

UPDATE: I was alerted to this analysis of tablet activity by the BBC based on access to the iPlayer. It was published a month ago but adds to the overall told above.

Digital subscriptions can help print circulation. And other lessons from the paywalled New York Times’s Rachel McAthy spoke to New York Times’ Paul Smurl before the Easter break to mark the second anniversary of the paper’s move behind a metered paywall.

The interview is worth listening to in full but here are a few lessons I took away from it:

1. It can be worth trading (some) ad revenue for subscription revenue…

2. …so long as you don’t lose too many readers

3. Digital subscriptions can help print circulation

4. Hostility towards the paywall model has softened

5. Amazon and Apple have taught people to pay online 

You can read more at the Press Gazette and can listen to the whole interview here.

So who will be affected by the Telegraph paywall?

Great post from Martin Belam yesterday on the Telegraph’s imminent metered paywall.

He ends by despairing at the lack of up to date information about the new plans on the Telegraph site and along the way points out who exactly would be affected by the 20-articles-a-month-for-free-and-then-you-pay model.

Here’s the key passage (my emphasis):

Now, from having spent a long time looking at news website analytics over the years I happen to know that the numbers will almost certainly say that the average number of pages viewed per user per month is between 1 and 5, or something of that magnitude. The only people who will get caught up in the twenty articles a month bracket are:

1. Telegraph super-users and loyalists, who may be tempted to add a print subscription into their package, and can certainly be marketed in that direction over the coming months.

2. Super-heavy news consumers and industry people like myself, who will presumably just tuck it into their business expenses like I do with my Times subscription. And now they’ll have more data about me.

Everything in moderation: how the New York Times does reader comments

Hat tip to Nieman Journalism Lab for spotting this exchange on Quora which sheds light on the New York Times’s attempt to cultivate more meaningful exchanges “below the line”. 

The question posed:

How does the NYT determine which articles have comments?

The answer was provided by the New York Times’s community manager, Bassey Etim. He wrote:

The vast majority of NYT comments are handled by a human moderator. This means that we have to make an editorial decision about which comment threads we will open for comments each day. Also, we adhere to a sort-of “slow moderation” theory, which posits that the best way to respect the commenting efforts of our readership is to ensure that their comments exist in an urbane, literate environment. (Definitely not an approach that is good for everyone, but it works fabulously for us, for reasons you can probably divine.) Our goal is to have every NYT comment thread offer tangible added value to each article for our readership.

The costs to this approach are obvious — it takes a long time, and many stories do not get comments. But NYT readers expect the highest-quality everything from us, so that’s what we deliver.

To boil it down, Etim lists  “general criteria for opening a story for comment, generally in order of importance”:

– News value of the story
– Projected reader interest in the story
– Have we recently had comments on this issue?
– Whether we can moderate the projected # of comments in a timely fashion