Four Journalism Techniques To Incorporate Into Your Blog Writing

If you want to be a successful blogger, you need to write like a journalist. In writing style — short words, short sentences, short paragraphs — as well as story flow — important information first, next important, third important, and so on.

But there are a few other journalism techniques you need for your blog if you want it to flow easily, and attract readers’ attention.

My first training as a writer was actually in journalism. It started with my Journalism 101 class at Ball State University, and then being a columnist and reporter for the Ball State Daily News. Since then

Stack of newspapers(For historic reference, this was back in 1987, when they were still printing out, waxing, and pasting up all the pages of the paper. This method of newspaper layout is also where the terms “cut and paste” came from.)

I’ve also been a newspaper humor columnist for over 18 years, and was a freelance newspaper reporter for a time. So everything I do is with a journalist’s eye — a jaundiced, bloodshot, narrowed-suspiciously eye. (I keep it in a desk drawer at my office.)

There were four important journalism lessons I learned from those early days of my writing career, which I still use in blogging today.

1. Your Lede Should Contain Everything We Need to Know

First, yes, it’s “lede” (pronounced “leed.”) It’s spelled that way so it’s not confused with “lead” (led), which is what the movable type was made from back in the early, early days of newspapers. Some newspaper reporters will call the opening paragraph the “lead,” but they don’t have a flair for historical drama.

Your lede needs to contain the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the story. We should be able to read that and understand everything we need to know about your blog post. Some of it may be implied, some of it may be understood, but most of it should just be put right out there.

Take a look at my opening lede:

If you (who) want to be (when = in the future) a successful (why) blogger (what = blogger and where = on your blog), you need to write like a journalist (how). In writing style (as well as story flow — important information first, next important, third important, and so on (more what and how).

2. Refer To a Person By Their Whole Name First, and Their Last Name Thereafter

If you mention a person in your blog post, mention them by their whole name, give their title or reason for inclusion the first time. Every time you refer to them thereafter, use their last name only. The presumption is, if the reader needs to know who you’re referring to, they can always scroll back up the story to find their first mention. We do this for men and women alike. The New York Times has their own style of referring to people as “Mr. Deckers” or “Ms. Carter,” but the rest of the journalistic world just uses last names only.

3. Write for Coma Patients

As my Journalism 101 professor, Mark Popovich, explained it: “Imagine your reader came out of a two-year coma this morning and has no idea what’s going on. So they open a newspaper to your story, and this is the first they’re hearing about any of this.”

This means you have to explain some issues, or at least refer back to them. You can’t assume that everyone knows what you’re talking about. You have to assume they’re coming to the issue for the first time in their lives, even if you’ve written about this topic for five years.

And while we’re on the subject, please never use “Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know about” or “Unless you’ve been in a coma, you’ve already heard about” as your lede. It’s stupid, and actually a little offensive. I saw that lede in a blog post about some advanced piece on affiliate marketing, and I still had no idea what the guy was talking about even after he was done.

This hypothetical coma patient is why newspaper stories have all the background information at the end of a story, even if it’s a long running story that “everyone knows about.” They explain the details we learned about in the early days of the issue, just in case someone is not up to speed.

For bloggers, that means link to your past posts about your topic, so our coma patient can go back to that story to catch up. (e.g. “I previously discussed the eight writer archetypes back in March.”)

(It also helps if you have the link open up in a new tab, rather than letting them leave the current page.)

4. Spell Out ALL Jargon The First Time In Every Blog Post

I don’t care if you’re THE leading expert in the industry, and you happen to know that every reader who comes across your blog knows exactly who you are and what you’re talking about. You always spell out abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon terms.

ALWAYS!

Because one day, someone who is not in your industry is going to stumble upon your blog, have no idea what you’re talking about, and they’re going to leave.

It could be our coma patient, or it could be the person who was newly-promoted to the position where they need to give a big fat check to someone with your expertise, but it’s not going to be you, because they have no idea what you do.

If you can make your beginning reader feel smart, without talking down to your advanced reader — and that’s a difficult balance to strike sometimes — you’ll be the person that everyone turns to, rather than just reaching a slice of your potential audience.

Most of our reading habits and reading styles have been shaped and influenced by newspapers. The Boomers and Generation Xers got there by reading actual newspapers. And because that writing style continues on, the Gen Yers are reading the same kinds of news stories online, and being similarly influenced.

Writing and reading styles are still changing as we gather more content online. We skim to read now, rather than reading entire blocks of text.

But one thing will remain the same: journalistic writing is effective for information gathering, because it gives people the most amount of information in the shortest amount of time.

As more people skim to read, if you can write like a journalist, you’ll get more information into their brains

Photo credit: NS Newsflash (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Maybe Social Media Marketing SHOULD Replace Traditional Marketing

Whenever I give a talk on social media marketing, I always point out, “we don’t actually recommend that you replace traditional marketing with social media. Rather, it should be another tool in your marketing toolbox.”

Why? Why can’t social media marketing replace traditional marketing? In a lot of cases, the traditional marketing has outlived its usefulness, and is just a waste of money. Not every time for every marketer. But many marketers are spending money on something that’s not working anymore.Toolbox

I can think of five reasons why you should replace traditional marketing with social media or content marketing.

1. You Aren’t Getting a Positive ROI

You ned to spend money to make money. But you need to make more than you spend, in order to make it worthwhile. You can’t just throw money away on a marketing channel and call it “branding.”

Because unless you’re Nike, you don’t have branding-level money, you have “this had better f—ing work” money. So spend the money in a place where you know you’re going to make more money than you spend.

One client stopped spending $60,000 per year on trade show marketing because they weren’t getting anything out of it.

“We’ve measured it, and we don’t make any money on the shows,” they told me. “We just go because we’ve always gone.”

The company switched that entire budget over to content marketing, and in the first six months, they got two new clients that grossed more than their entire annual trade show budget.

2. You’re Overspending

A common trick of the Yellow Pages companies is to break everything out into a monthly price, so all their features and add-ons seem small. “It’s only $5.99 more per month.” “That’s only $3.99 more per month.” “Oh, and that’s a paltry $6.99 per month.” Before you know it, you’re spending a lot more than you intended.

On top of that, your prices will increase even more the following year. Your vendor will often send you a contract renewal with some barely noticeable rate creep, hoping you’ll sign it without too many questions. Soon, any prices you were paying are greatly increased from when you originally signed it.

Combine that with the fact that you weren’t getting a positive ROI in the first place, and it’s either time to renegotiate or drop the channel completely. Your vendor’s salespeople should be able to show you how to measure your ROI (they can’t do it for you, but they can show you how). If they can’t, cancel.

Social media isn’t free, but it is controllable. If you hire an in-house person to do it, you can control the costs. If you outsource to a third-party, they can show you the ROI and prove their value.

3. Your Audience Isn’t Using Traditional Media

Are you relying on newspapers to reach 20-somethings? Are you advertising your home decor products on ESPN? Or you’re still rocking the Yellow Pages ads even though you’re trying to reach smartphone users.

This is where it pays to do target market research. Find out where your target market is likely to see (and not see) your advertising. If they don’t read newspapers, stop advertising in them. If they don’t watch ESPN, quit buying TV spots.

Next, figure out where they do spend a lot of their time, and how they gather news and information. For many people under the age of 30, that’s on social media. Quit spending money on advertising outlets that aren’t yielding anything, and start focusing on content marketing and social media marketing.

4. You Need to Reach a Target Audience

Who’s your target audience? And don’t say “everyone.” Because unless you’re Target, “everyone” isn’t an audience.

Who are the typical buyers of your product? Men over 40? Moms? Single 20-somethings?

How would you typically reach them? TV advertising comes close, but there are so many viewers who aren’t in your target market that you’re wasting money. TV costs are based on total viewers, not targeted viewers. You’re paying for people who will never buy your product to see your commercial.

Radio? Same problem as TV. Plus, there’s more than one station your target audience listens to, so you have to double or triple up.

Direct mail? You can target your audience, but you don’t know who opened your mail, or what they did with it.

With social media marketing, you can target a specific group. Whether it’s advertising to certain demographics on Facebook, or running a content marketing/local SEO campaign for search engines, you can specifically target only those people interested in your product, and ignore everyone else.

5. You Don’t Have a Big Budget

Like I said, social media isn’t free. But it’s relatively cheap, when compared to traditional marketing. TV and radio ads can cost many thousands of dollars. Billboards on highways often cost $10,000 or more per month. And on and on.

Social media marketing is a fraction of that cost. It can easily reach your target audience, and won’t cost as much to do it.

Think of it this way: It can cost less than $100 per day ($3,000 per month) to advertise on a single cable station, but you’re going to spend $30,000 or more (sometimes much more) to create a high-quality spot. A six month ad run is going to cost you $48,000. Then you need another six-month ad. Or a two month seasonal ad. Or more than one commercial.

(And let’s not even talk about how you’re spending a lot to not reach your target audience, or how difficult it is to track ROI.)

Social media pricing varies, but an outside agency can manage social media anywhere from $1,000 – $5,000. It may seem like a lot, but it beats the $96,000 per year you’re spending to create and run two TV commercials on one cable TV station.

Can we completely replace traditional marketing with social media marketing? Not yet. But every day, traditional marketing’s effectiveness is slipping into obscurity. It’s not dead, but it’s certainly coughing a lot.

For some companies, however, they need to stop spending money on traditional marketing and advertising and make the switch to social media marketing instead. It’s where your customers are spending most of their time, it costs a lot less, and it’s easier to reach your target audience.

Photo credit: jasonwg (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Yet Another Serial Plagiarist Busted by Google

March is International Serial Plagiarist Month, apparently. Because it’s the month that I discovered my humor columns being ripped off by, not one, but two newspaper editors in North America.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from humor columnist, George Waters, who said that we, plus 12 other humor writers, had been ripped off by Steve Jeffrey, publisher of The Anchor in Chestermere, Alberta, Canada, in 42 columns out of the last 52 weeks.

Not just a line here or there, or one of the funnier jokes. He did a complete copy-and-paste job, made some edits to give it a local flavor, and then published it under his name.

(You can read a very thorough writeup of the plagiarism situation by Andrew Beaujon of The Poynter Institute, a journalism school in Florida.)

Bicycle thieves and Dutch police

If only plagiarists were this easy to catch.

Earlier this month, Jon Flatland of the Blooming Prairie (Minn.) Times was found to have been plagiarizing humor columns and blogs from several humor writers, possibly as far back as 15 – 18 years ago. He resigned in disgrace, and his publisher notified the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation and another writer notified the North Dakota Newspaper Association about his plagiarism. He’ll never work in newspapers again.

And 25 days later I get another email that I have been stolen from yet again, but I was only ripped off twice. Fellow humorist Sheila Moss had 24 columns lifted.

How do we know? Because Waters copied every single column published under Steve Jeffrey’s name from the last 52 weeks — the online archives for anything beyond that were not available — and Googled unique phrases from each and every piece, and found columns that were written beforehand by someone else. That’s how he found me and three Canadians, eight Americans, and one Australian. I’ve also used Google Cache to find copies of my columns in The Anchor’s Issuu.com PDF newspapers. (Note: Just because you delete something from your website doesn’t mean it’s gone; Google saves this in their cache for weeks and even months.)

But that didn’t stop Jeffrey from expressing bewilderment at the accusation that 80% of his columns were found to be nearly identical to columns by other people. According to Beaujon’s article:

Reached by telephone in Alberta, where he said he was about to travel to British Columbia for two weeks, Jeffrey seemed baffled by Waters’ allegations. His column, he told me, doesn’t even touch on comedy. “I don’t write humor, and I don’t blog,” he said. “I write a ‘Lighthouse’ column, but ‘Lighthouse’ is about local politics.”

Well, the Lighthouse columns I read from August 25, 2011 and October 13, 2011 looked an awful lot like mine, with a few details changed. One is from 2003 about the three hours I worked as a telemarketer in college, and the other was an open letter to a fictitious fellow traveler to Boston. In 18 years, I have never written about local Canadian politics.

God Save Me From Newspaper Editors

As blogging has grown in popularity, bloggers have been increasingly under attack by the media. Bobby King, president of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, once called us the animals in the blogosphere. And yet, it’s not the bloggers, but the highly trained professional newspaper people that have stolen from me.

Three times.

In all the years that I’ve been a humor writer, I’ve had my work stolen by three different newspaper editors. (I discovered my work being lifted back in the early 2000s by an assistant editor of a weekly paper in Ontario.)

That means Canada leads the U.S. in theft of my work, 2 to 1.

But I have never found a legitimate, serious blogger stealing anything of mine. (That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but I’ve never found it.)

What’s most frustrating about this is that I’ve been writing my newspaper column for little to no pay for all these years, publishing it in 10 different newspapers around Indiana, and in The American Reporter online. I do this because I love writing, and I love making people laugh. Humor writing has never been about the money. I’ve tried self-syndicating, but found very few takers. “We don’t have the budget,” is the frequent answer. So I gave up trying to earn money from it, and just do it because I love it.

So it frosts me when editors — bearers of journalistic ethics and integrity — profit dishonestly from my work. They collect salaries, they collect advertising revenue, and they make their living by stealing something they weren’t willing to pay me for.

I still consider journalism to be a noble profession, and I still think editors play a vital role in informing the public. I won’t paint all editors with the same overgeneralizing brush that people like Bobby King have painted my profession. Hell, I got my “professional” writing start thanks to one newspaper editor in northern Indiana who took a chance on me 18 years ago, so I am forever grateful to editors as a whole.

But I’m also getting sick of media professionals decrying the state of the blogging industry, when it’s their brethren who keep stealing my stuff. If you want to talk about “the animals in the blogosphere,” let’s first have a conversation about “the thieves in the editors’ offices.”

Otherwise, get your own house in order before you attack mine.

And quit stealing my stuff.

Fallout from Steve Jeffrey’s Serial Plagiarism

Here’s what has happened since the theft was first discovered:

All archives from The Anchor’s website were removed immediately after the Poynter.org story, as have all of their PDF versions from Issuu.com.

I’ve been in touch with the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association and I launched an official complaint with the Alberta Press Council. I don’t know what results those will bring, but hopefully we’ll see some sort of investigation and resolution.

UPDATE: According to an article in the Calgary Herald (“Calgary-area newspaper editor resigns following plagiarism allegations”, Steve Jeffrey resigned his position as publisher of The Anchor today (Tuesday). According to the article,

“I really don’t have any way to defend myself. I did use articles for inspiration, but thought that I had changed the content enough to comply,” (Jeffrey) said in an e-mail to the Herald.

Ripped Off Columnists

All links point to at least one stolen newspaper column or blog:

Stories about Steve Jeffrey’s serial plagiarism:

Because I believe in thoroughness and the power of search engine optimization, you can also read stories about Steve Jeffrey’s serial plagiarism at these blogs and newspapers:

 

Photo credit: welcome2bo (Flickr)

How Google Caught a Plagiarizing Newspaper Editor and Ended His Career

I’m baffled at the fact that, when we live in a day and age where you can find anything — anything! — on Google, people will still try to plagiarize and steal your stuff.

It just happened to me yesterday, when I was alerted by a fellow humor writer, Dave Fox, that 28-year newspaper veteran, Jon Flatland, had stolen at least two of my past humor columns, word for word, and passed them off as his own.Photo of a raccoon on a trash can

To make matters worse, Flatland had done the same to Dave and four other writers, including a friend of mine.

Flatland didn’t just paraphrase our ideas, or copy a joke or two. He copied-and-pasted entire columns, changed a couple of details, like replacing his wife’s name for my wife’s, or changing the name of a city where an event took place.

Dave immediately got in touch with the publisher, as well as a state newspaper association who had given the writer an award for best humor last year (I’d love to know whose columns actually won the award for him).

One of the writers also called Flatland up and confronted him. Flatland said he didn’t believe he had plagiarized, but that he had found the stories in an old folder, thought he had written them, and published them as his own.

I’m not buying it. One of my stolen stories, ‘Twas the Month Before Christmas, was written in the exact same rhythm and rhyming pattern as the original Night Before Christmas. You don’t forget writing something like that, as much as I’ve tried.

Apparently Flatland knew something was about to hit the fan, because he sent an email of resignation to the publisher — admitting to only one column, even though we have proof of eight — and was gone before the publisher ever got into work. The publisher has since removed all of Flatland’s columns, and has notified his state’s newspaper association about the incident, blackballing Flatland and preventing him from working in newspapers ever again.

That all went down yesterday. I heard about it at 11:30 am, and by 11 pm, it was done. A career died in less than 12 hours.

What’s sad about this is Flatland was a 28 year veteran of the industry. He’s someone who knew better. He was one of the people who was supposed to teach young writers all about journalistic ethics. Flatland has had a long and impressive career in the community newspaper business, and has been the president of at least two state newspaper associations. So his name has carried a little weight in his corner of the world.

And he ended his career in disgrace, because he violated the one rule, the one foundational principle, the entire media business is built on: don’t steal someone else’s shit. In fact, Rule No. 9 on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is never plagiarize.

I feel sympathy for Flatland. His career has ended in the most embarrassing manner possible. Former colleagues and association members will be talking about him, shocked that he would do the one thing that journalists are never, ever supposed to do.

But what makes it so stupid and senseless is that WE CAN FIND THESE THINGS OUT! Holy sweet jebus, it’s so freaking easy to find anything on the Internet! There are entire companies that have built multi-billion dollar empires by making it possible to do exactly that.

Want to see Portlandia’s “Put a Bird On It” video? Google it.

Want the lyrics to Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida? Google it.

Want to see if a phrase you used in a humor column in 2006 has been used anywhere else? Google. It.

Enter a unique or uncommon phrase from one of your posts or columns, and put quotes around it. That tells Google to look for exactly that phrase, with all those words, in that particular order.

If the phrase, along with most of your words other words, shows up without your name on it, it was stolen. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t.

It truly is that easy. And why Flatland didn’t know that or couldn’t figure it out is probably the most staggeringly disappointing part of this whole mess. He didn’t think he would get caught. He didn’t think that people might/could/would look to see if any of their stuff was appearing anywhere that it shouldn’t be.

And now, because Flatland didn’t know that one basic fact — that, and he’s a column-stealing thief who benefitted financially from my years of hard work, while I got nothing — he’s ended his career in the worst possible way, ensuring he’s never going to work in that industry again.

If you get nothing else from this column, please burn these two lessons into your memory forever.

First, don’t steal people’s work.

Second, if you do steal, please know that there are giant f—ing search engines that will find you out, no matter what tiny part of the globe you’re in.

Just write your own stuff, or don’t turn it in at all.

Photo credit: Adam Thomas (Flickr)

Some Bloggers Are Journalists. Get Over It

Should journalists be licensed? Should they be given some sort of special card that says they have undergone the rigorous training necessary to objectively report the news, and thus be given special access to government officials, sporting events, and other newsworthy goings-on?

Christine St-Pierre, Quebec’s culture minister, believes so. She is creating a plan for “a new model of regulation of Quebec media.”

In other words, she wants the government to determine who is worthy of being a “journalist,” and thus excluding people who don’t work for traditional media outlets.

As in, not bloggers.

It’s a familiar refrain: newspaper writers and other big-J Journalists don’t like bloggers. We’re not real journalists, they say. We haven’t had the education or training. We’re not held to the same rigorous editing and writing standards that they are. And so, this makes them the arbiter of deciding what is real journalism and what isn’t.

Australian writer and web developer Aaron Holesgrove echoes St-Pierre’s sentiments, claiming some moral high ground that bloggers may not occupy, simply because we don’t work for newspapers or TV stations.

We’re not objective. We present opinion as fact. We use anonymous sources.

I guess in that sense, most cable news stations aren’t journalism either. Neither Keith Olberman and Sean Hannity are objective, and both present opinion as fact. And as far as anonymous sources go, I see them quoted in news articles all the time. They’re the ones called “someone familiar with the facts” or “someone not at liberty to speak to the media.”

But there are plenty of bloggers who report the news objectively. They report on nothing but facts. They don’t use anonymous sources any more than the real newspapers. And when it comes to writing and editing, they’re the masters of their craft.

The American Reporter is an online-only newspaper that, by the strictest definition, could be considered a blog. They’re the first Internet-only newspaper, as well as the largest online alternative newspaper. But they’re a newspaper first, and a blog second. So what does that make them? (Full disclosure: I’ve been their humor columnist since 1997.)

Apparently You Lose Your Journalism Card When You Go Online

So what’s the deciding factor between a journalist and an online hack who is looked down upon by the very people he seeks to emulate? Is it the writer’s employer? Are we journalists because we’re paid by newspapers and TV stations? Are we non-journalists because we’re freelancers and free writers? Is it our education, or lack thereof? And what about the people who used to be journalists but aren’t any longer?

There are plenty of examples here in Central Indiana of people who took their work from the print and broadcast world to the online world. They were laid off or removed from their positions, found a home online, and became bloggers.

Ruth Holladay, former firecracker columnist for the Indianapolis Star has held her former employer’s feet to the fire for more than four years now on her own blog. Paul Poteet is a former meteorologist for WRTV, the local ABC affiliate, and found a second home online, parlaying his TV celebrityship into an online presence most of us would kill for.

But neither of them work for the large media conglomerates that once employed them. Does that mean that they are no longer worthy of the term “journalist?” Did Ruth have to hand in her journalist card when she started publishing her words online? Did Paul get suddenly struck stupid, and no longer able to read a weather map, when he left his TV station?

On the national scale, a couple years ago the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Denver Times became online-only newspapers. The P-I folded their print edition and went online only, while the Denver Times was born out of the ashes of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News.

No one would (seriously and credibly) argue that these two newspapers are no longer journalistic sources just because they are online-only. And yet, there are people who will say that Holladay and Poteet are no longer journalists because they’re not employed by large media conglomerates.

So where does that line get drawn? I’m a professional blogger, but I’ve published a newspaper column for nearly 18 years. Am I only a journalist when my words appear on dead trees? Or do I carry that mantle and responsibility in every kind of writing, including here?

Bloggers Are the Pamphleteers of Old

Back in the 1700s, pamphleteers were those people who wanted to express their opinions to a large group of people, and did so in their own proprietary platform. Today’s bloggers are yesterday’s pamphleteers — we don’t have access to the machines or process to broadcast our opinions via mass media, but we do have the communication channels through WordPress, Blogger, Posterous, and about 40 other blog platforms.

We use blogs to express our opinions and stories, the same way Thomas Paine expressed his support for the Americans during the Revolutionary War.

Is blogging messy? Yes.

Is it prone to misuse and abuse? Of course.

Do we make mistakes or go overboard in our opinions? You bet.

I see the same thing from professional journalists too. Slanted news stories, over-hyping and sensationalizing news (and weather!), and even plagiarism and fabrication (anyone remember Jayson Blair?).

Still, I think journalists hold themselves to their self-imposed standards, while most bloggers do not. That’s what makes journalism an institution to be trusted as reporter and watchdog. But if bloggers want to be taken seriously as a form of communication, we need to step up and start following those practices as well.

In the meantime, you big-J journalists, blogging isn’t going to go away. No matter how much you deride the form, it’s only getting bigger and more powerful. You know what’s going away? Print media. You have a choice. Teach us how to do it right, teach us how to do it well, so you have a place to land when your employer figures out that two 20-somethings can do your job for a fraction of your salary.

To paraphrase an old quote by writer Rex Huppke, “It’s funny when journalists mock (blogging). It’s also funny when people about to be eaten by a bear mock the bear.”

Bloggers who want to be journalists need to step up their game. Journalists who are destined to be bloggers need to get over themselves. Because one day, just like newspapers replaced pamphleteers, blogging is going to do the same thing to the newspapers.

Photo credit: Manin The Moon (Flickr)

The Newspaper Industry Isn’t in a Position to Sneer at the Blogosphere

The Indianapolis Star just suffered another round of layoffs this week, losing 81 jobs to Gannett’s ineptitude and bean counting. Of these cuts, 26 of them were in the newsroom — including 8 reporters and 12 editors — and 19 were unfilled jobs, all made in the name of budgetary concerns and profitability. The cuts were part of Gannett’s larger bloodletting of 700 employees nationwide.

Meanwhile, their CEO raked in $9.4 million in 2010, doubling his pay from 2009, including a $1.75 million blood moneybonus that was partly a result of his “restructuring costs and creating efficiencies.” Translation: ruin the lives of 700 people, and we’ll give you their salaries.

Newspaper machines

You

Believe me, even though I’ve called for more citizen journalism — and this is exactly why — I have complete sympathy for the Star employees who just lost their livelihood because Gannett wasn’t making enough of a profit. I worry about them and their families. Gannett seems to excel at accounting and numbers, but they suck at news reporting and suffer from a complete lack of understanding of community. Where Indianapolis readers see stories and personalities, Gannett sees dollar signs.

But Bobby King, president of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, managed to throw a damper on my sympathies stick his thumb in my eye with this line from his latest blog post.

So, the answer that Star publisher Karen Crotchfelt came up with was to gut suburban coverage, eliminate an entire layer of copy editors (that last line of defense which separates us from the animals in the blogosphere) and make a nip here and a tuck there to reduce expenses.

Animals in the blogosphere?

The one thing I can’t stand from journalists is the way they look down on bloggers with this sense of smug superiority. Look, you guys don’t have any special knowledge or skills that any other writer can’t get. You have editors who save you from misspellings and continuity issues. Without them, you’re no better than we are. You print your words on dead trees, we print ours on a free software platform. Your printers cost millions of dollars, and without them, you’re dead in the water. I run my entire corporate blogging business on a $1,000 laptop, and if it breaks, I can get another one and never miss a beat. Our industry is growing, yours is shrinking.

If journalists want to survive this, they’ll quit looking down on the blogosphere as the gathering of the great unwashed and recognize it’s the future of news. They’ll quit acting like the crew of the Titanic and sneering, “ew, a rescue boat? How droll.”

Look, Bobby, I know you’re pissed, and scared, and are watching the dismantling of a once-great newspaper by some clueless nimrod 1,000 miles away. But don’t attack bloggers or refer to us as animals. Sure, we didn’t go to J-school or spend 20 years honing our craft. But blogging is more than 15 years old, and there are some bloggers who can outwrite most newspaper reporters. Hell, a lot of reporters and columnists have found a new career and a new voice as a blogger. (And it wasn’t lost on me that your “animal” comment was made on a blog.) But these former journalists are the ones who make blogging better.

So you can sneer at bloggers all you want, but we’re going to be here for a long time. You can look down on us, or you can join us.

Photo credit: evelynyll (Flickr)

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)