What's next for news?

Journalism 2.0 is a conversation about the intersection of journalism and entrepreneurship. It's about the new business models for news and the startups and new projects that are flourishing around us, giving us a preview of what's next for news.

Mark Briggs is editor of this blog and author of Journalism 2.0 (2007), Journalism Next (2009) and Entrepreneurial Journalism (2011). He is co-founder of Serra Media and was Ford Fellow of Entrepreneurial Journalism at The Poynter Institute from 2010-2012.

You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and TripIt.

Investing in people and product: a playbook for success

The news business is changing. Maybe you’ve heard?

While the implosion of Project Thunderdome at Digital First Media has captured the “future of news” crowd’s consciousness recently with many trying to gauge the evolution of the news business through this unfortunate development. But I’ve decided to break my long blogging drought to highlight a couple of success stories that have me as bullish on the future of news as ever.

One is the transformation of legacy media company. The other a startup that burst onto the scene several years ago but exploded only recently.

The Atlantic made a conscious decision to part with part of its heritage when it dropped “Monthly” from its brand title because it aspired to become a platform, not a magazine. As recently as 2009, the company’s revenues were generated entirely from its 150-year-old print magazine. Today, one-third of its revenues come from digital and another 20 percent from its burgeoning events business.

Vox Media meanwhile, grew out of a network of popular sports blogs that became popular in the last decade. Over the past two years, it has launch half a dozen new digital titles (SBNation, The Verge, Polygon, Eater, Racked, Curbed) and is already running at break-even financially. Its latest initiative, voxnews.com, will be launching soon led by the high profile transition of Ezra Klein from The Washington Post.

One company has been around for a century and a half. One for less than a decade. Yet the two are succeeding for many of the same reasons.

“Modern journalism is iterative, getting feedback from an audience and learning as we go,” said Jim Bankoff, presenting to an audience of about 400 at the International Symposium for Online Journalism at the University of Texas April 4. “And we believe that brands matter more than ever.”

The Atlantic shares that belief. But to evolve in the digital world, a traditional brand cannot remain constant. One approach by The Atlantic was to “stretch the brand to its breaking point,” according to the company’s president, M. Scott Havens, during a session at SXW Interactive on March 9. As a result, the company launched Quartz in 2012 and made a concerted push into mobile, which would be quite a stretch for a company if it still saw itself as a monthly magazine.

“If you’re a publisher and you’re not thinking about mobile, you should probably just get out of the business,” said Havens, who recently left The Atlantic to take a new job with Time, Inc.

The Atlantic has doubled the number of journalists on the payroll since 2009, according to Hastings. Quality journalists create quality content which drives a premium audience, which drives revenue and that gets reinvested in great content.

Looking for the business model in the digital age? That’s a pretty good place to start.

At Vox Media, which is the fastest growing media company in the U.S., they are making a number of “bets:” quality at scale, embrace conversations (social networks in context), operate in real-time and topical publishing.

Bankoff described Vox as a “technology-driven media company” and talked at length about hiring the right people and fostering the right culture. If you want to scale, you need to control your technology destiny. “Your product is your experience,” Bankoff said.

The company has a 52-person product team and built its own content platform, called Chorus, and is about to roll out its own ad platform, called Harmony. It’s “hacker culture meets journalism,” says Bankoff, who said culture is the most important part.

“Think like a platform company: not a one-off media property. Build technology, processes and company culture to scale.”

Bankoff said Vox is trying to avoid platform dependency (Facebook, Twtter Google) while relying on organic growth and conversation to drive traffic. Easier said than done. Just ask anyone who works for a media company where the number of fans and followers are the new measuring stick at corporate offices.

Vox is executing this plan with phenomenal success. More important, the impressive audience growth is translating into revenue growth as well. The focus on the business side is to target the brand marketing dollars, instead of advertising budgets. Bankoff expects $150 billion in brand marketing to move to digital in the near future. And instead of participating in the “race to the bottom” business model of programatic and banner advertising, Vox is able to focus on the higher end of the market where CPMs are actually growing.

“We’re seeing CPM growth because we’re investing in quality,” Bankoff said, adding that overall revenues are growing at “a rapid rate,” roughly doubling year over year.

Investing in people. Investing in product. The Atlantic and Vox are using different editions of the same playbook to grow and evolve in the digital age.

Is blogging still relevant to journalism?

That’s one of many questions I’m pondering as I start work on the third edition of Journalism Next. If you are a professor who has chosen to use the text in your class, or a young journalist who experienced the book in college (whether it was your choice or not), I’d love to get your feedback.

In looking at the chapter topics, I’m wondering if I need to include a separate chapter on blogging in the next edition? Is that still relevant? I don’t want to waste time trying to define “blog” in comparison to other news sites. And, as I learned this weekend at the ISOJ conference in Austin, there are actually still journalists and academics struggling with the fact that blogs exist! (“Some people just can’t over the fact anybody can say any damn thing on the Internet,” quipped Jay Rosen.)

What about a basic understanding of how the web works? Still needed in 2014? Or audio? Is that helpful for students to learn? (I had one professor tell me yesterday that, yes, it is.)

Below is a list of chapter topics from the second edition of Journalism Next. If you would take a minute and give it a look, then let me know what should be in the third edition (due out next year) and what can be “retired” I would be forever grateful.

1. How the web works
2. Blogging for better journalism
3. Crowd-powered collaboration
4. Microblogging and social media
5. Going mobile
6. Visual storytelling with photographs
7. Making audio journalism visible
8. Telling stories with video
9. Data-driven journalism and digitizing your life
10. Managing news as a conversation
11. Building a digital audience for news

Email me at mark@journalism20.com and share your insight. (UPDATE: There’s a technical glitch with comments on this post so I have turned them off until I can find and fix the problem.)

Much appreciated.

 

Fork app featured by USA Today

Thanks to USA Today for featuring Fork in its tech section on Friday. As you might imagine, the number downloads and active users jumped dramatically. It’s great to see our app gaining so much traction so soon after launching.

Interestingly, the editors changed the headline midway through the day on Friday. What started as “Fork app focuses on community of home chefs” became “Fork app lets you guiltlessly post ‘food porn.’” I wonder who the “porn” term was meant to attract: readers or search bots? Regardless, you can see the story here.

USA Today picked up a story that was originally published by Ozy Media, a new site based in the Bay Area that has an A-list array of financial backers, including Steve Jobs’ widow. They seem to be taking a different approach and, so far, I like what I see. Check it out when you get a chance: www.ozy.com.

And if you have an iOS device and get a moment to download and try Fork, I would love to get your feedback.

 

Build your blog into a business

“You’re not bloggers. You’re media companies.”

That was my message to a group gathered at the International Food Bloggers Conference last weekend in Seattle. Unlike many news startups, food bloggers enjoy multiple revenue opportunities, because their content is “close to the cash register” in investor parlance. Some of those revenue streams include:

  • recipe development
  • teaching cooking classes
  • professional meal planning
  • catering or food production
  • freelance writing
  • writing or contributing to cookbooks

For many bloggers, their blog is a resume or brochure of sorts. It’s a way to establish their brand and credibility and open doors to new opportunities. Food bloggers also make money with more traditional publishing methods like advertising, sponsored posts and affiliate links. This creates a diversified revenue profile more akin to a media company than a “blog.” (Still not a fan of that term after all these years.)

I wanted to offer this audience a glimpse of the digital media world that I run in, highlighting some points that will hopefully help them think about their own business with a wider angle lens. Hence, the challenge to think of themselves as media companies.

It’s a good lesson for all news startups or anyone who is publishing content on a “blog.” Always be looking for opportunities that extend beyond advertising and sponsorships, or what we would now consider the “traditional publishing model.”

You can view the presentation here. And below is a collection of selected tweets from the session.

 

Want to get hired? Be smart and creative. And be able to prove it.

Who do you want to hire?

Professor Lucrezia Paxson directed that question to me in front of about 30 students at Washington State University on Friday morning by. It was the first of four classes I would speak with that day so I knew it would come up again. And it’s a question I’m asked quite frequently. For some reason on Friday, though, I had more clarity.

Like most companies, we want to hire smart, creative people.

Sounds simple but it’s not. Not for the companies or the job candidates. Since I spent all day Friday talking to soon-to-be job candidates, I’ll focus on that part of the equation for this post.

All companies want smart, creative people – whether they are media companies, tech startups or whatever. How do you prove to them that you’re smart and creative?

That’s the key. Assuming a level playing field where all job candidates know how to write and report in the journalism world, anyone can say on a resume or in an interview they are “smart and creative.” But what does that look like? For me, it looks like my friend Lauren Rabaino, who graduated with a journalism degree from Cal Poly in 2009 but had the full complement of skills that would make any hiring manager salivate: she can write and report, design, code and do social media.

How many people do you know who do can all four? If journalism schools were turning out graduates with all these skills, the landscape for traditional media companies would look much brighter. Instead people like Lauren mostly end up at places like Buzzfeed or the HuffingtonPost. To Lauren’s credit, she took it upon herself to learn all the skills. She didn’t take classes on it. And she is constantly learning and writes about what she knows and has learned. Becuase, you know, she’s a journalist.

If you want to be able to “write your own ticket” in the professional world of journalism, learn all four skills. If, like me, you don’t have all four (I really wish I had learned to code!) here’s a few of the points I repeated in my talks with all the classes at WSU Friday:

- This is the golden age of journalism. Sorry if it’s not the traditional track of jobs at big newspapers or the evening news. But there are more jobs in journalism than there were 10 years ago – before the big rescission and cutbacks. As I told the students, a big part of my daily media diet means reading content from companies that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago: Mashable, Buzzfeed, GeekWire, GigaOm, Skifft.

- “Creativity is the new literacy.” This is a quote from Chase Jarvis and I fully believe it.

- Prepare yourself now for jobs that don’t currently exist. My last 3 jobs did not exist when I was in college. So don’t focus to tightly on one career track. You may not be able to find that type of job or, as happened to me, you may not like it once you land it.

And here are some of the insightful offerings my Twitter followers offered:

And consider my path: when I was in college, my *dream job* was as a sportswriter at a big newspaper. Seriously.

Since 2000, my job has been to figure out what my job should be on an ongoing basis. I’ve been hired three times now to figure out the future. “I’m making this up as I go,” as I told the students.

How did I get these jobs? I was able to prove that I’m “smart and creative” enough to get the latitude to make it up as I go. But that’s what we do in digital media today since no one knows what will be the next Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat or Vine.

How did I *prove* that I was “smart and creative“? Before I wrote books and published a blog I did grad school projects that resulted in real-world readership: I wrote for the university research magazine, managed the alumni association website and wrote a 200-page thesis on the integration of college athletics in the South during the civil rights era in the 1960s.

All of those things led hiring managers to take a chance on me and give me the reigns to their company’s digital future. I had no idea what a blog was when I took my first digital news job in 2000, no idea what Twitter or Facebook was when I took my next digital news job in 2004 and no idea what Instagram, Pinterest or Vine were when I took my current job in 2010.

Because none of those things existed when I took those jobs.

There is a lot that doesn’t exist today that will impact your career. You don’t know what those apps, platforms or technologies will be, so don’t worry about it. Just focus on being as smart and creative as you can possibly be in today’s world. And that will set you up for tomorrow.

Quick pitch: The art of telling your story in two minutes

You know about the “elevator pitch.” It’s the concept of being able to explain an idea in 30 seconds or less, about the time you’d spend talking to someone in an elevator. It’s a great test for any idea since the longer it takes you to explain said idea, the less grasp you really have on it.

The pitch contest has become an increasingly popular format at all kinds of tech startup events. Some, like the TechCrunch event in Seattle last month, are 1-minute pitches. Others, like the SXSW V2Venture conference I participated in last week in Las Vegas, use a 2-minute timeframe.

Briggs pitching Fork at SXSW V2Venture

I pitched the idea of Fork, a new iPhone app I helped develop with some friends that is now available in the App Store. We were finalists in the Culture and Entertainment Category which featured some really interesting ideas. Zazoo won our category, which didn’t surprise anyone since they launched in Jan. and already have 300,000 users.

Even though we didn’t win, the experience (and the conference) were very worthwhile. If you have the opportunity / challenge of doing a short pitch in front of judges and an audience, here are a few key lessons I learned last week:

Get to the point, FAST! Explain your idea in short, simple, declarative sentences as soon as possible. No long, run-on sentences and no jargon. Some people like to imagine this as how you would explain your idea to your parents (assuming they are not in your industry.)

Hit the high points: There isn’t time to get into the details of how everything works or how your will acquire users. You can dive into the details the judges are most interested in during the Q&A time. And by staying out of the details you’ll have more time to cover more ground.

Prepare for the Q&A: At most pitch events, there is more time for Q&A than for pitching. In Vegas, we had two minutes to pitch but seven minutes to answer questions. Anticipate what questions you will face and prepare for 3-4 of them just like you prepare for the pitch.

Practice, practice, practice: This is the only way to know for sure that you can get through your entire pitch in the allotted time. Going over or not finishing is not an option and looks really bad. If you don’t have time to meet in-person with friends or advisors who can give you feedback, just capture your pitch on a quick video on your smartphone or laptop and email it to them.

So, what?: This tip comes from Emily Best, who delivered one of the most buzzed-about sessions last week at V2Venture. Judges (and audiences) are skeptical so make sure you answer their first, most obvious question after your pitch: so, what? If possible, end your pitch with your response to that question since it will be the last thing the judges hear before the Q&A.

Stand and deliver: Maintain eye contact with the judges throughout – don’t turn your back to them to look at the big screen behind you. And don’t move around the stage. It’s only 1-2 minutes. You should be able to stand in one place for that long.

For more guidance, check out this short video from Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Corner. If you follow these tips and have a clear, compelling story to tell, you’ll do well. And if you’re nervous, don’t worry, it will be over in two minutes (or less).

Announcing Fork: An iPhone app for food, photos and friends

Fork: iPhone app for food, photos and friendsAs you know, I love a good side project. I started writing my first book, Journalism 2.0, while I was running the website of the The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. and, somewhere in the process of setting the alarm for 5 a.m., I formed a habit. Ever since, I’ve had a side project of one kind or another (a startup company, two more books, a fellowship at Poynter) and I’m happy to announce my latest: Fork, an iPhone app for sharing food photos with friends. (Here’s a demo video one of our beta users made.)

Fork inspirationThe original inspiration, as I told Jenni Hogan yesterday, came from my daughter, Ellie, who was 9 at the time. I’m a single dad and she and my son, Sam, call my house “Dad’s Steakhouse” because, well, I apparently make a lot of steak.  One night she created a restaurant “sign” out of a Post-It Note and put it on the wall behind where we eat dinner. Then she added a new note for every dinner I served that week and a column for her and her brother, where they added their comments about what I’d made each night. (The original name of the project in my computer is “KidYelp.”) So after a few days I had a wall full of Post-It Notes with information and ideas about what to make for dinner – and what my kids liked. I thought, “I wish I had that on my iPhone.”

And, of course, food is done best with photos. So I approached a couple friends who I’d worked with before who are amazing at development (Scott Falconer) and design (Lauren Rabaino). And since they both love food and sharing food photos, we started working on it.

Fork team photo

Turns out, making an app is hard work (and I didn’t even do any of the coding). Keeping it simple, clearly focused and easy to use means making a lot of tough decisions before doing any programming or design. And then making more tough choices as you go. Since I occasionally teach entrepreneurial journalism workshops focused on turning an idea into a product, this has been a great learning experience and given me a real-world test on those lessons I teach.

As I’ve said since writing it in my first book, ideas are cheap and execution is everything. I first had the idea for this app about 18 months ago, but only through the contributions of Scott, Lauren and a bunch of other people smarter than me did the idea finally come to life this week.

If you have an iPhone and you like food (and have friends), I invite you to download Fork and check it out. Please let me know what you think and how it could be better. We have already benefited from the feedback of dozens of friends who helped us work out some bugs on earlier versions, but as with any entrepreneurial endeavor, you have to continue to adapt to the needs of your users.

Some of those early test users have told me that they actually cook more interesting meals and eat better because of Fork. We have discovered that it’s gratifying to share food stories with friends and it turns out that it’s also motivating. If people who use the app find more happiness through food, that would be awesome.

And make all the 5 a.m. mornings and late nights even more worthwhile.

Debate this: Is there enough market demand to support quality journalism

In my last post I discussed the first session of the Kiev conference I attended last week. Today I will look at the second session, which was organized as a debate.

First off, let me say that debates are a good format that conference organizers in the U.S. should consider. This is the second time I’ve participated in a debate at a journalism conference – both in Europe. This debate was described as Oxford-style with two speakers on each side of the question: Is there enough market demand to support quality journalism?. A moderator asked questions and kept time. Each speaker had a 5-minute opening argument but then was limited to one-minute responses to questions from the moderator and audience so the session kept moving briskly.

Briggs in Kiev

Briggs delivering his opening statement in the debate session. Click the image to see more scenes from the conference.

Before the debate, everyone in the audience placed a red or blue chip in a bowl to vote for their response to the debate question. The audience did that again after the debate and the winning team would be the one that gained more votes between the before and after votes.

My team lost (and I’m still bitter). But it was a great format and one that I think could be used for many interesting “future of news” questions at conferences like ONA, ISOJ, SPJ or SXSW.

I’m convinced that a misconception of the term “market demand” in the debate question lost the debate for my team. We saw the “market” as commercial and argued that many business models are emerging to support quality journalism. The other team argued saw the “market” as audience and argued that too few people want the tough, deep, investigative journalism because “it is too hard.”

Regardless the outcome, I enjoyed the session and could sense that the audience did as well. Which is no small feat given that there were two of us speaking English and three speaking Russian and the whole thing was being simultaneously translated in both languages (plus Ukrainian).

Think of the interesting questions that could be used in debates at conferences in the U.S.:

  • Is social media journalism? (the topic Mandy Jenkins and I discussed at SXSW this year)
  • Will paywalls save the U.S. newspaper industry?
  • Is being first in breaking news worth the risk of being wrong?
  • And … Is there enough market demand for quality journalism? (I want another shot at that one)

Take note, conference organizers. We all know the panel discussion format is beyond tired and powerpoint presentations are akin to visiting the dentist. Consider adding a debate to your next conference agenda and spice things up with a little intellectual competition.

Ukraine conference seeks answers to important questions

What will be the new model capable of sustaining the quality news?

That was a question pondered, discussed, dissected and debated last week at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine that I was honored to attend. The Foundation for Effective Governance hosted the conference at the Premier Palace Hotel and it drew some 350 attendees. Not bad for a high-minded discussion about the role of business supporting journalism in a growing democracy.

Briggs speaking in Kiev, Ukraine. Click the photo to see more images from the conference.

“Ukrainian media is going through the same struggle of adjusting to survive as the news outlets globally,” said Nataliya Bugayova, project manager at FEG and the person responsible for making the conference happen. “However, most innovations and new models of quality news are being developed oversees. Thus, we decided to bring these top foreign experts and innovators to share insight with Ukrainian audience and help them think of new solutions for quality news in Ukraine.

“Also, we aimed to put the question of the future of quality journalism on the national agenda in Ukraine and make all stakeholders- society, media market, policy makers- think of the role they can place to preserve the quality news.”

In the first panel discussion I tried to emphasize that, yes, there are new models capable of sustaining quality journalism and they are already emerging around us. But it’s not a singular model like printed newspapers or broadcast TV. It’s a hybrid model that combines different platforms and revenue sources. The “old” model relied so heavily on advertising – and just one or two types of advertising – which is why it has been so difficult to adapt in the digital age.

It felt a little like deja vu all over again. I’ve had this discussion so many times over the past five years in the U.S. but these questions are just now getting tackled in other parts of the world. I tried to explain how there is often a bit of revisionist history with the “old model” since people didn’t pay directly for news and/or content. They paid for the service that included printing and doorstep delivery (in the case of newspapers).

Briggs-Bugayova in Kiev

Briggs and Bugayova in Kiev

In some publications now, readers do pay directly for content as evidenced by the fact that the New York Times gets more revenue from subscriptions than advertising. That’s never happened before. Not even in the “golden age.”

Meanwhile, digital advertising is evolving and growing. Content marketing, native advertising, digital agencies inside of news organizations, events sponsorships … so many ways to make money to support the journalism. It doesn’t have to be a 1:1 ratio where readers pay directly to access content.

“Given the feedback from the audience, I believe it was a true value-add experience and that Ukrainian media professionals, especially the younger generation, took a lot of useful and new information from the event,” said Bugayova, who also used the conference to launch a journalism training program in Kiev.

An international lineup of speakers from diverse locales and backgrounds made the conference a rich experience for a journo geek like me. But I think it also effectively introduced the “future of news” discussion to a new audience in a way that made it accessible and understandable.

In my next post I will discuss the debate that I also participated in at the Kiev conference.

Journalism Next now available on Kindle

Just a quick note to let you know that the second edition of Journalism Next, which came out a couple months ago, is now available on Kindle at Amazon.com.

Thanks again to the fine people at CQPress who helped make this possible. I’ve heard from many educators, students and professionals who are finding lots of great material in the new edition. So thanks, too, to all my expert sources who contributed tips, tricks and knowledge for the text.

If you are a teacher and would like to request a review copy, you can do so here.