Newsonomics: The steep hill of scale

A couple of years ago, after trying and failing at a free ad-supported business model and flirting with pay walls that brought in negligible revenue, a number of news publishers started to come around to the idea of scale. When it comes to monetizing an audience, it’s go big or go home.

And there is certainly a lot to be said for scale, since it appears to be the only way of making any real money selling journalism online. Big players like BuzzFeed, HuffPost, an Business Insider, even medium sized ones like Gawker, all make money by funneling colossal amounts of traffic into a hopper. Out the other end squeezes a non-colossal amount of revenue, which is used to pay for a handful of journalists.

It’s not a great business model, but it is pretty much the only one on offer right now. Which is why Postmedia — as it prepares to downsize yet again — appears to be moving into the digital-scale business.… Continue reading

(UPDATED) Why there is no ad-supported digital business model for journalism

The CJR has an ominous  piece about the “darkening” employment outlook for journalists at digital only publishers like Buzzfeed, Vice, Vox, and so on. It’s a disheartening corrective to the widely held, but pretty much entirely wrong view, that print is failing because it is run by dinosaurs who don’t know how to properly transition from a print to digital world. While print continues to melt (Rogers is preparing to massively shift its magazines to largely or exclusively digital publishing), there’s little indication digital is much in the way of a stable icefloe.

In fact, just the opposite. Mashable basically gave up on news this year, as Gigaom did the year before. Vice has laid off reporters. Buzzfeed recently shuttered its Ottawa bureau after a year or so.

What’s remarkable about the supposed digital behemoths, like BuzzFeed, is how tiny their revenues are. According to the CJR piece, BuzzFeed was expecting revenues of $240 million in 2015, and came in with $170 million.… Continue reading

The news is not about information (or, why everyone hates the media)

When I became managing editor of the Ottawa Citizen in 2011 (then Editor in 2013) I started to have a lot of contact with readers — emails, phone calls, and a surprising number of handwritten letters. It was through this contact that I began to get a sense of what our readers really cared about, and what they valued in their subscription. Two things stuck out:

The first was that, by and large, what readers cared about were things like comics and puzzles, the daily weather map, the TV listings. Somedays it seemed like we could have put a picture on A1 of the prime minister consorting alien space prostitutes, but if we also printed the Sudoku upside down or got the “On this date in weather history” wrong, that is all I would hear about.

The second was that readers would often call, angry, because we had downplayed (or ignored, or missed) a story they knew all about from another media outlet.… Continue reading

What should be done about the state of the news media?

Over the past six or seven years, I’ve spent more nights than I care to count sitting in bars with fellow journalists bemoaning the relentless decline in the industry’s fortunes, while spitballing about alternative revenue models, content models, regulatory policies, or technologies that might save the business. In that time, I’ve held pretty much every position imaginable. Many of these positions I’ve argued for in private with colleagues, in public in columns, on panels, even as a paid speaker.

If there is one thing I’ve concluded, it is this: No one knows what the future of the news media looks like. I don’t, the people running the major news companies don’t, the people running the cool new digital shops don’t, and the consultants who continue to charge healthy fees giving advice certainly don’t. Yet the “legacy”, or traditional media, continue to decline, and the new media darlings, like Buzzfeed, Vice, and others, aren’t doing so well either.… Continue reading

The wheels are coming off the wagon

This is not really a surprise, given the structure of Postmedia’s acquisition of Sun properties (buying the newspapers only). Still, it is a welcome relief:

 

sun

 

It puts me in the mood to reminisce. Everyone has their favorite Sun Media moment. Here is mine:

 

o-SUN-NEWS-HARPER-TRUDEAU-570

Now remember, this little comparison graphic is not a paid advertisement. This is… what? What exactly does one call this? Editorial content I guess.

If anyone is ever tempted to forget what Sun News was/is, I would encourage them to return to this little graphic.

P.S. by the way, I assume that Trudeau Jr. is driving the car made famous by his father, which he presumably inherited.… Continue reading

The (messy) ethics of freedom of speech

A few days ago, I took part in a very interesting panel discussion on the issue of free speech. The panel was prompted by the tragic events that took place in Paris a couple of weeks ago. One of the most interesting aspects of the panel was that despite our disagreements, none of the participants actually thought that the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo actually raise any particularly interesting issues to do with freedom of speech as it is usually understood. As far as I am able to tell, hardly anyone thinks that the cartoons that the satiric magazine has published over the years warrant censorship. Even commentators who believe that there are cases in which the state appropriately steps in to limit freedom of speech – cases in which speech promotes hatred toward an entire group, for example — acknowledged that Charlie Hebdo steered clear of the line separating ridicule directed at religion, religious symbols and religious beliefs on the one hand, and contempt or hatred directed at a group of people, on the other.… Continue reading

How to close down a discussion (before it starts)

I must say, I had been looking forward to the release of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything. Not so much because I expect to agree with that much of it – if she hasn’t changed her mind about anything since her article in The Nation a while back, then I know that I disagree with much of what she has to say on the topic of climate change. But I’ve been mentally pencilling into my schedule time to read it, and then write something in response to it.

The reason I find it worthwhile to engage with Klein’s work is that the views she articulates are often widely shared on the left, but are usually the sort of thing that you hear people say – like things I hear from my students – but that you don’t often find written down anywhere. So whenever she puts these ideas down on paper, it offers a good opportunity for discussion and debate (and for me, an opportunity to point out what I think is wrong with a lot of conventional wisdom of the left).… Continue reading

Maximes pour le blogueur contemporain

Dans la quantité monstrueuse de mémoires, thèses, manuscrits et autres travaux universitaires que je dois évaluer cet été, je suis retombé sur les célèbres maximes de Grice pour une « conversation coopérative ». Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de penser que le blogueur contemporain aurait tout intérêt à respecter lesdites maximes, du moins si son but est de contribuer à améliorer la qualité de notre conversation démocratique. Le blogueur dont le but est strictement de raisonner de façon stratégique, de marquer des points, de caricaturer la position de ses adversaires idéologiques, et ainsi de suite n’a que faire des ces normes communicatives.

Paul Grice a été l’un des philosophes du langage les plus influents dans l’univers philosophique anglo-américain du XXe siècle. L’histoire s’en souviendra entre autres pour son « principe de coopération conversationnelle » et les maximes qui en découlent. Ce principe doit idéalement gouverner les discussions visant la coopération entre les locuteurs.… Continue reading

On political lying

Like many commentators, I’ve been complaining a lot about the so-called “post truth” political environment. In response, some people have been trying to enlist my support for a “truth in politics” act. The idea is pretty simple. Why not make lying illegal? Why not punish politicians for saying one thing while campaigning, then doing another?

This is something that Democracy Watch has been pushing for a long time. Perhaps the highest-profile supporter of the idea is Andrew Coyne (e.g. here), which I find in some ways rather surprising.

I do not support this idea, because I think the issue is far too complicated to be dealt with legislatively. Just to pick an obvious point, there is an important difference between telling a lie and breaking a promise, which the concept of “honesty” unfortunately obscures. I would support narrower, more targeted legislation, dealing for instance with the problem of misrepresentation in political advertising.… Continue reading

I’m Not A Real Journalist But I Play One On TV

On Sunday evening I watched 60 Minutes. One of the pieces featured the Canadian journalist Morley Safer examining new ‘drone’ technology that permits remotely controlled model aircraft to fly around neighborhoods with digital cameras. The episode was not exactly hard hitting journalism but it did raise some issues about technology and privacy. Soft as the piece was, I assumed that Safer was presenting a news story and not a piece of fictional entertainment.

Then I turned on the Netflix series House of Cards and who did I see? Morley Safer playing himself as a hard-hitting journalist from 60 Minutes pressing a fictional Vice-President of the United States about an alleged political scandal. Safer is not the only journalist who has had a cameo appearance on House of Cards. Kelly O’Donnell, NBC News, Ashleigh Banfield, CNN, Candy, Crowley, CNN, Sean Hannity, Fox News, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, Chris Matthews, MSNBC, Chris Hayes, MSNBC, Morris Jones, ABC 7, Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg News, Major Garrett, CBS News and Scott Thuman, ABC 7 have all ‘played themselves’ on the hit show.… Continue reading