Five Online Monetization Ideas for Newspapers

BIg-city newspapers that are still relying on ad sales and subscriptions to pay for their giant printing presses and related salaries are only delaying the inevitable closure of said newspaper. (Dailies in smaller cities and the small-town weeklies still seem to be doing well, since they cover local news, which the big city papers are ignoring.)

Newspapers need to realize ink on paper is not the only way to deliver news.

But if the big city newspapers were to start rethinking their content delivery methods, they might be able to start generating some additional income. Here are five ideas newspapers could use to increase readership and grow revenue.

1. Hop On The Mobile Bandwagon

Earlier this month, Mashable reported on a survey that said:

U.S. smartphone owners are increasingly turning to mobile to access breaking news over other media, including newspapers, TV and desktop web browsers.

In a survey of 300,000 mobile consumers, 88% of whom owned a device running one the five most popular smartphone operating systems, more than 30% said that mobile is the “most important medium” to access breaking news, narrowly followed by desktop web browsers (29%), television (21%) and newspapers (3%).

That’s because online news is beating traditional media to breaking the news.

If a story breaks at 10:17 in the morning, I could watch it on the noon news (except I’m at the office), the 5:00 news (except I’m in the car), the 6:00 news (but I’m eating dinner), or the 11:00 news (13 hours later). I could also read about it in the newspaper at 6:30 am, 20 hours later.

Or I could read about it on my mobile phone by 10:18.

A lot of newspapers are still struggling with website-based delivery, and people have already moved on to the next channel. The newspapers that adopt a breaking news strategy with their online content can get additional readers via their mobile sites, and sell ad space on those sites.

2. Create Tablet-Only Content

iPad-owning newshounds all clapped their hands and went “squeeeeeee!” when they heard News Corp. was launching an iPad-only newspaper. The version costs $.99 per edition, and will come out on a daily basis. Murdoch hopes to win just 5% of the 40 million iPad owners (2 million people), which at $.99 per edition is $2 million per day.

While a local paper is going to have trouble drawing in 2 million readers on tablets, they should start exploring the possibility of a tablet-based news delivery system. Whether it’s audio and video content (see below) that’s playable on a tablet, tablet-only stories, or even an entire publication dedicated to tablets, the explosive growth of tablets mean that newspapers need to pay attention to a possible new delivery method.

3. Use Video and Audio Podcasts

I’ve been trying out Stitcher lately, a podcast delivery app for my Android. I plug it into the AUX jack on my car, and listen to whatever I’ve selected — a couple of short podcasts from Indiana University, and the Paul & Tom Show (Paul Poteet and Tom Davis).

This got me to thinking: I would love to hear a daily 15- or even 30-minute regional news broadcast. The closest I can get is the 9 minutes my local NPR station devotes to city news, including the 5 minutes they devote to the Indiana business news program.

So who says newspapers have to report news on paper? Why can’t they create video and audio content?

What if a newspaper started producing audio content where they did 15 or 30 minute daily news programs available via Stitcher or iTunes or another mobile delivery system? Drop in three commercial slots, and treat it like a real news program. Devote as much or as little time to a story as you want, so if a program runs 5 minutes long, that’s fine. There are no restraints on a podcast length the same way there are with a radio show, so running long or running short by a couple minutes is no big deal.

The Indianapolis Star will occasionally do online news videos to supplement their stories. I would love to see more papers doing this as well, especially if the videos are optimized for mobile use. With a good digital camera and a green screen backdrop, newspapers could start generating news videos for less than a one-time cost of $10,000, and give their news interns and new writers something to do. Sell ad space before and after each video, with a corresponding ad on the web page’s sidebar.

4. Locally-Produced Content

My friend, Bob, was the digital editor for the Indy Star a few years ago. They hired local bloggers to write stories about their communities and neighborhoods for online consumption. They paid $5 per post at 3 posts per week, and sold ad space for the locally-produced blogs. The digital version made $1 million per year.

This had several benefits for the paper:

  • Hyperlocal content that appealed to people in those areas of town. The regular print paper didn’t have room these posts, but they were still able to reach readers
  • Readers who wanted to read the local content were directed to the online paper, which helped them sell more ads.
  • The paper didn’t have to pay full-time writers to write the articles. Even at $25,000 for a fresh-out-of-college writer, that’s still $12.50 per hour. And it would take 1 – 3 hours to write a 300 word article. By paying a local blogger $5 per post, they’re saving anywhere from $7.50 – $32.50 per article.

5. Targeted Ads a la Facebook and Google AdWords

This falls under the Technology I’d Like To See heading: If I read an online newspaper, I would be willing to provide them with basic information about my name, age, where I live, etc., so they can deliver targeted ads to me based on my demographics, like Facebook does. However, I would also like to see ads based on the stories I’m reading, like Google’s AdWords and Pay Per Click, which they currently do.

But what would be really cool is to deliver ads to me that are a combination of both my demographics and the stories I’m reading.

For example, if I’m reading a story about a fire in another part of town, there are any number of ads that could be served up: fire insurance, fire protection, alarm systems, document storage, etc. But the paper would also know that I’m a father of three and have my own home, so they may serve up ads about alarm systems, knowing that I’m most likely to be concerned about my family’s safety (and that I already have insurance as a home owner). But someone who is single and living in an apartment may receive an ad about fire insurance or document storage, and not see the same “protect your family” ad. Reading a story about the car industry may show me an ad for a new family-friendly car, while the single 20-something is going to get an ad for the sports car.

While some newspapers are using one or two of these ideas, not every newspaper is doing so, and not every idea is in use at this time. But if newspapers want to survive this continued downward spiral, they’ll start looking to the Internet as their new delivery system now, rather than 10 years from now, when a new young upstart has taken their place, and begun delivering the online content that people have been looking for.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk (Flickr)

Your Blog Openings Suck: Four Blog Leads to Avoid

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three weeks, you know about the two big gamma ray emitting bubbles that US astronomers found at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

No you don’t. That’s just stupid.

I hate it when blog posts start out with the overused phrase “unless you’ve been living under a rock” followed up by some assumption that “everyone” knows about this, except for hermits and Tom Hanks’ character from Cast Away.

BLEAH!!!

The problem is that because we don’t all read the same newspapers and blogs (I had to search to find something to put into this opening, because even I didn’t know about the gamma ray bubbles), we all have different sets of knowledge. The best thing to do is to assume your audience doesn’t know. “Write for the person who just woke up out of a coma,” my journalism professor used to say.

The writer who uses this opening is making a dangerous assumption that a) everyone knows what he or she knows, and b) their readers won’t find it insulting that they didn’t know this.

Here are four openings you should avoid in your blog posts, because they’re overused, insulting, or not enjoyable to read.

1. The Rock/Cave Dweller

I’ve already ranted about this, so I don’t need to go into it anymore, other than to say I’ve seen this from a couple professional PR bloggers who should know better. Unless you’ve been in a coma for three years, you know who you are.

2. The Recipe Opener.

Take one cup of overused cliche, two tablespoons of tired old trope, and two equal parts of “GAAAH!” and “please kill me now!” Mix thoroughly, and you have a recipe for my least favorite opener. This one is just tiresome and plodding. It was cute the first time I ever saw it in high school, but the 5,000 times since then just make me want to bite my own neck.

It can be used for any story, in any industry, and any publication. And often is.

3. Once Upon a time

I fell prey to this again and again when I first started writing. The inclination is to write like we talk, and we often tell stories to make a point. And where does a story start? Right at the beginning. So I would open a column or article by starting at square one and explaining how I got to to the important lesson of the piece. (See, I even did it to start out this particular paragraph.)

Write your blog posts like a journalist writes a story. The most important part of the story should be the very first sentence. The lead should answer who, what, when, where, why, and how in the first sentence or two. It should not start out with “so I was sitting in a coffee shop with my friend Dave. . .”

4. Stalling

I’m sick of seasonal openers that have nothing to do with the blog post.

The TSA had a stunner on a recent post about their Secure Flight program.

November 1st is right around the corner and with that date comes cooler weather, fall foliage and the seemingly never ending battle between rake and leaf. It also marks the end of the year-long grace period for airlines to clear their systems of old reservations made before TSA’s Secure Flight requirements took effect last year.

The post is not about the autumn colors, cool weather, or the blister-raising tedium of leaf raking. So why even mention it? In fact, the TSA post doesn’t even mention it ever again. Your lead needs to be about the topic, not about the time of year that have nothing to do with what you do.

What bad openers have you seen? What are some good ones? Leave some examples in the comments section and let me know.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

Photo credit: Zakmc (Flickr)

The Growing Need for Bloggers as Citizen Journalists

Two bits of interesting news this past month for bloggers who consider themselves journalists:

I’ve been preaching for a while that bloggers are citizen journalists. And now we get confirmation that 52% of us believe it to be true, and that 61% of Americans are possible readers. Plus — and this is a big one — the last-reported numbers from Technorati are that 77% of all Internet users read a blog of some kind.

The time is ripe for bloggers to begin thinking of themselves as citizen journalists. Social media is making it so much easier for us to not only see the news, but report it as well.

Social media is breaking the news before the news.

We’ve seen several instances where social media broke news stories before mainstream media picked it up. The three most notable examples have been:

  1. The first images coming out of Haiti were on Twitter, because mainstream media couldn’t get on the ground. People with cell phones and spotty wifi were sending photos to Twitter and Facebook, and we were spreading them around like wildfire. My family was particularly interested in one set of missionaries in Port-au-Print, and @TroyLiveSay was providing information that we weren’t getting anywhere else.
  2. Moments after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, news was spreading on Twitter before the shots had even stopped.
  3. When the US Airways flight landed in the Hudson last year, news had broken on Twitter 15 minutes before the first news reports hit the airwaves.

While none of these examples show a failing of the mainstream media, they show that in many cases, people reporting on incidents that happened nearby ended up being first just because of the widespread nature of the tools.

I’ve been playing with Posterous as a possible blogging platform for rapid response and crisis communication professionals. You email your blogs to your email address (it’s actually just post@posterous.com), your subject line is your headline, you attach any photos, type and format your content in your text box, and voila! You’ve got a blog post sent from your smart phone.

And I totally geeked out a few days ago, when Chris Brogan showed how you can take photos on your digital camera, and immediately have them uploaded to your favorite file sharing service, with something the size of a quarter and something else the size of a pocket calculator.

My advice? If you have even the slightest inclination of being a citizen journalist, start taking your blogging seriously. You don’t have to change the scope of your blog, your writing style, or even the quality of your writing.

Just do it with intentionality. As hard as it may be to explain (this is the 6th time I’ve written this paragraph), report your news for posterity. Do it with a sense of responsibility and gravitas. When you see something happening, take photos and upload them to Flickr or Picasa. Send tweets. Email news to your blog. Be a source of information to your community. Don’t just repeat what you’ve seen, report on it.

Even something as simple as reporting a small incident you just witnessed can sometimes lead to national or even international stories, or you may be the lone voice that speaks for someone who can’t do it themselves.

While I’m not suggesting we all change our focus and become word slingers, I am suggesting we adopt the mindset that we’re just as good as the professionals who, I’m sorry to say, just aren’t as quick as the “ordinary citizens” armed with nothing more than cell phones and a serious case of Twitter-thumbs.

Related posts:
Rules for Being a Media Blogger
Defining Two Types of Crisis Communication
Five Things Newspapers Can Teach Us About Blogging
What Stylebook Should Bloggers Use?

Five Things Newspapers Can Teach Us About Blogging

If you’re not getting readers to your blog, it may not be your social media promotion, it may be because your blog sucks.

(Okay, it doesn’t really suck. I was just saying that to get your attention. You’ll see why in a minute.)

I recently spoke to the Hoosier PRSA chapter of the Public Relations Society of America about the secrets of blogging, and realized I had never actually written about the subject of the presentation.

Blogs are a lot like newspapers. In fact, a good blog is written more like a newspaper than a magazine. And since bloggers are becoming citizen journalists, I think it’s important that bloggers learn to write like newspaper writers. Here are a few ways you can improve your blog writing and have it read more like a newspaper article.

Write in Newspaper Style.

This means the most important information goes first, second most important goes next, and so on. It’s the inverted pyramid style. After a certain point, usually around the halfway mark, you start seeing more of the inside information, background story, etc., and the story gets boring.

Newspapers are written this way, because readers usually abandon a story when it gets boring. They also abandon it because it’s too long.

So with a blog post, you need to end the post before you get to the boring part. When you start writing background information, or repeating old information, stop. Don’t write a post that’s long enough for people to get bored. Instead, put a “To learn more about this issue, check out these previous posts” section with links to older stories.

Short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.

Despite what my 7th grade English teacher said, it’s perfectly all right to have a one word paragraph.

Nyah.

By breaking things up, and making them easier to read, we’re more likely to continue on. We glance ahead and see all the short paragraphs and think, “that’s not so hard. I can go a little longer.” Pretty soon, “a little longer” turns into “the entire story.”

Negative Space = Readability

One of the reasons newspapers are tough to read is the lack of negative space (that’s fancy graphic designer talk for “spaces between paragraphs”). All the paragraphs are crammed together, which can make for some tiring reading.

Our eyes and our brains need a break from all the text running together, so we look for that break by switching to other stories, abandoning the one we were just reading. But if you can provide some extra relief in the story, that will help propel readers forward.

Create a Powerful Lede

I got your attention when I said your blog sucked, didn’t I? Not every blog post has to have a Pulitzer-quality opening, but it doesn’t hurt to have something that’s attention getting and informative.

Remember, a newspaper article’s job is to get you to read the first sentence. The first sentence’s job is to get you to read the second sentence, and so on. So your lede better be a doozy.

(By the way, the opening sentence of a newspaper is spelled “lede,” not “lead.” Lead is the soft metal used to create the individual letters used to lay out the newspaper. Since “ledd” and “leed” are spelled the same, journos started calling the opening sentence the “lede” to avoid confusion, forcing future generations to explain that we’re not idiots, and we do know how to correctly spell that word.)

Write For a Clever 12-Year-Old

It’s a newspaper’s dirty little secret that they write for a 6th grade education and attention span. (Don’t feel too insulted; TV news is produced at a 4th grade level.) That’s why the important stuff is at the front of the story. Bloggers need to do that too.

It’s not that your readers are stupid, or can’t understand big words. It’s that we just don’t want to devote the mental resources and energy to decoding really long and complicated words. Even academic journals written by and for Ph.Ds in an academic field are considered “better” if they’re written at a high school level instead of a post-graduate level.

So skip the polysyllabic words and use short ones instead.

It’s also important that you explain new terms. Assume that your story is going to be read by someone who is experiencing this issue for the very first time. Don’t assume knowledge on their part, don’t assume they know as much about the story as you do. So be sure to explain it like you’re telling that 12-year-old for the first time. Don’t use jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations unless you explain them.

For example, newspaper style requires you spell out what a term means, followed by the acronym/abbreviation in parentheses. That tells the reader you’re going to use it from then on in the story.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today announced a new measure banning texting by truck drivers.

Afterward, I can use FMCSA in the story wherever I want. However, when I do a new story, I have to assume a new set of readers, so I have to spell it out again.

Writing a blog can be easy, especially if you’re doing it informally, and for just a few people. But writing it newspaper style takes a little more effort, but the payoff can be worth it. You’ll get more readers, your readers will stick around longer, and you’ll earn a reputation of being a stellar writer.

Just remember to tell them where you learned it.

Photo credit (inverted pyramid at the Louvre): KeepTheByte, Flickr
Photo credit (lead type): JM3, Flickr

Rules for Being a Media Blogger

This was originally posted at the DeckersMarketing.com blog on May 28, 2009.

I was really honored to be selected as a media blogger for the Indianapolis 500 this year (I’m covering it at my Laughing Stalk humor blog). I’m sitting up here with a lot of local talent, although there are a lot of empty seats right now (I’m in Dennis Neal’s seat from WLW radio in Cincinnati).Indy 500 Media Center

I learned a long time ago that there are a couple of unwritten (and written) rules for media people. And if you’re interested in being a guest blogger for a sports team or major event, you need to follow these rules. They’re the same ones the big-J Journalists follow every day. (“Big-J Journalist” implies that these people are serious journalists who make their living writing and producing important work. These guys look down on bloggers, because we’re not serious or well accepted in journalistic circles.)

  1. Never geek out. You were probably invited because you’ve got a passion for writing and for the team you’re covering. However, you’re the media now. You’re not a fanboy who bumped into your favorite player at a McDonald’s. Play it cool, be mature, and don’t try to be their buddy. You’re there to get a story, just like the real Journalists (see, I even used a big J), so act your age and get it done.
  2. Never ask for autographs or photos. My friend Amanda, who writes Red Hot Mama, the Cincinnati Reds/National League Central fan blog, said she once tried to get some media credentials for a Reds game, and was told it would never happen. It seems the year before, they allowed a blogger into the locker room, but the guy geeked out and asked for autographs and photos with the players. The guy turned into a total fanboy and gave the PR staff the only reason they would ever need to not invite bloggers to cover the team again. Now, we can argue the Reds are missing some great PR and coverage, but until that PR director leaves, he’s willing to give it up to avoid the hassles and headaches.
  3. Blogging is not big-J Journalism. And it never will be if you don’t act like it. Sure there are writers like Chris Brogan, Jason Falls, and even political writers like Matt Drudge and the Daily Kos are all professional bloggers and speakers. They take their reputations and brands seriously, and work hard to make blogging an accepted form of media. If you’re going to be a serious blogger — and maybe we should start calling ourselves big-B Bloggers — write your blog as if you have a serious brand to promote.
  4. On the other hand, you’re not there to write fluff either. Don’t feel like you have to be the company yes man on anything. I was eating lunch today with a reporter who had also been a blogger for his newspaper. He wrote a not-so-nice post about one of the racers and his wife last year, and was griped at by the racer’s staff via email. While he is no longer blogging for his paper, he is still employed by them. He still writes critical pieces if he needs to, and realizes he’s not there to be the PR mouthpiece of the racers or their teams. The takeaway: if you find or see something that could be seen as negative, write about it anyway. Do it respectfully, and treat it like a big-J Journalist would. Write the facts, keep your opinion out of it, and be a professional.

Bloggers are still getting a bad rap from most of the mainstream media as being an unreliable source of news. And it will be, until we change our reputation and quality of work. That, and when the newspapers all go out of business, and network news is replaced by cable news and, well, blogs.

Until that time, as you grow your reputation and reach as a quality Big-B Blogger, practice journalistic techniques. Read books on newspaper writing (it’s still the gold standard of writing quality and ability), use Associated Press writing style, and study as many newspaper writers as you can.

But most importantly, for the love of God, don’t geek out.

Bloggers Are Citizen Journalists

A common complaint I hear from big-J Journalists about bloggers is that we’re not “real” journalists. That we’re somehow beneath their contempt and notice.

I first saw this attitude when I worked at the Indiana State Department of Health, and a few of my colleagues said we would never deal with bloggers because they only wanted to put out bad information. And in dealing with other Journalists, they almost seemed to say “blogger” with a sneer. As if “blogger” was something they stepped in on their way to the office.

As a result, many Journalists don’t believe things like Reporter Shield Laws should apply to us. For example, if an environmental blog were to uncover environmental violations by a large corporation, that blogger could be forced to reveal who his or her sources were. But if a newspaper wrote the same story, the reporter would not.

The biggest question comes down to who is a journalist. In the Branzburg v. Hayes case, Justice Byron White said

“Freedom of the press is a ‘fundamental personal right’ which ‘is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. … The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.’ … The informative function asserted by representatives of the organized press in the present cases is also performed by lecturers, political pollsters, novelists, academic researchers, and dramatists.”

— Quote from an article by David Hudson of FirstAmendmentCenter.org

Even back in 1973, when Justice White threw open “The Press” to anyone who produced the printed word, technology has widened the definition to anyone who writes for blogs, the 21st century’s electronic pamphlet.

In his article, Hudson also cited Kurt Opsahl, the staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who mentioned a couple examples where bloggers outperformed the big-J Journalists

“Bloggers hammered on the Trent Lott story (Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond) until mainstream media was forced to pick it up again,” he said. “Three amateur journalists at the Powerline.com blog were primarily responsible for discrediting the documents used in CBS’s rush-to-air story on President George Bush’s National Guard service. And the list goes on.”

Cox lists several other national-headline stories affected greatly by reporting from blogs, including: Dan Rather and the Texas Air National Guard memos, the White House giving press credentials to James Guckert/Jeff Gannon, the resignation of CNN news executive Eason Jordan after publicity surrounding his remarks at the World Economic Forum and the John Kerry-Swift Boat Veterans for Truth controversy.

Or to put it another way, the big political scoops in the last 5 years have not been by the media, but by bloggers. Also called little-J journalists.

So, other than an overwhelming sense of elitism by the men and women of the dead-tree media, what really separates us from being real Journalists?

Is it the medium? Many former newspaper reporters and columnists have left the printed word, and gone on to start their own blogging career:

  1. Ruth Holladay who is serving brilliantly as a cheerleader for traditional media and a thorn in the side of her former employer, Gannett
  2. Lori Borgman the former arts columnist for the Indianapolis Star
  3. Columnist Saul Friedman who retired from Newsday rather than let his column go up behind a paywall

(I’m curious what their colleagues think? Have these writers somehow fallen from grace, and are no longer “good enough” to be considered Journalists? Are they now mentioned with the same sneer I heard three years ago?)

Maybe the pay is the issue. The fact that bloggers don’t get paid as much as newspaper writers (who, frankly, are not known for their lavish pay and glamorous lifestyle) may be the deciding factor. However, there are some online writers who make a lot more money than most successful businesspeople, let alone Journalists. So that argument doesn’t seem to hold weight.

Maybe it’s the training. The aforementioned paper-turned-pixel writers notwithstanding, Journalists seem to think they have the super-secret training that makes them a font of reliability and trustworthiness. Yet I know a lot of journalists who can’t spell, don’t know grammar, and in some cases, just plain can’t write. I took several journalism classes in college, and I can tell you they don’t teach anything extra special that someone with a penchant for the written word couldn’t pick up.

Even the Washington Post isn’t immune from bad writers. Meanwhile, there are several outstanding bloggers who produce some outstanding prose that would make any big-J Journalist green with envy.

Maybe it’s because the media is trustworthy and bloggers aren’t? You know, trustworthy. People like Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and Ruth Shalit. Of course, Shalit is back in journalism, Blair is a life coach in Virginia, and Glass is now a multi-millionaire, thanks to the book and movie deals he has gotten.

Admittedly, these three are the exception to the rule, and not the rule themselves. But my point is there are bad apples in blogging and bad apples in Journalism. Still if you’re going to accuse bloggers of not telling the truth, you need to look at the journalists who make stuff up too.

I just don’t see what the big difference is, other than bloggers don’t kill a lot of trees to get their message out through a dying medium. Yes, there are bad bloggers, but there are bad journalists. Yes, there are bloggers who lie, but there are lying journalists as well. (Some people might say that term is redundant.) Yes, journalists are trained as writers, but there are a lot of trained writers who use the electronic medium instead of newsprint.

If the U.S. Supreme Court opened up the definition of Citizen Journalists to pamphleteers and leaflet-writers, then they can certainly open it up to bloggers. And as bloggers, we need to make sure we can meet that expectation. We need to take on the mantle of Citizen Journalist ourselves, and then make sure we live up to that standard. (I’ll discuss that more in the future.)

So what do you think? Are bloggers journalists? Or are we a bunch of cranks sitting in our parents’ basement under bare light bulbs, writing about conspiracy theories and Paris Hilton sightings?

Stacks of newspapers photo: John Thurm
Ann Arbor News photo: mfophoto