…because it feels like that all things that are fit to print are shit. Paper is a valuable support for content, with specific characteristics and unique relationship with every reader. But those who only care about pushing crap won’t mind about the medium. Unfortunately, some say it will float.
I wrote a post for Tracy Boyer’s awesome Innovative Interactivity blog. It is a bit different from the stuff that usually is posted there – it’s mainly about multimedia, and you should follow it – because I discuss the new characteristics that should be taken into account when creating digital news products. I’ll be writing an in depth series over each item soon, but meanwhile you can get the gist of it.
It’s not about just informing people anymore, it’s about creating a product that lets people do something with that information, creating richer and more immersive content, making it more valuable and with a longer lifespan.
The goal is to combine these features to create an integrated product, going beyond placing them along the content. Multimedia, interactive packages are a great example of integration of these items, but many tend to forget some that could make the information more useful and improve user’s experience.
These are just the main ideas for this concept, so I’ll highlight the most important characteristics for each element.”
After a few months teaching online writing and multimedia narratives to journalists, I found out that their biggest question was never if links worked, how valuable video editing skills are, or why social networks have an impact in content distribution, they had already figured that out. Their biggest doubts were about how to make money with journalism. And I got some stunned reactions when I told them that was impossible.
My parents owned a business for 11 years, a small café, in the city centre,with a mixed clientele, from passing shoppers, bank workers, car mechanics, retired people and local fauna. In units, the product we sold more was expresso. If you ever been to Portugal you’ll know we love our shots of expresso throughout the day. But that was the cheapest product we had and without a great profit margin. So, if we relied our whole business on selling expressos, we would never make it.
And the clients changed according to the time of day, not only in type but also in needs: the working, early morning, breakfast yearning crowd had nothing to do with the late night binge drinking costumers. So we had different products for each one of those types: fresh bread and pastry in the morning, to go along with coffe and milk, and cold beer and spirits for an after dinner meet up over a football match on TV.
Key products for key types of clients. And that was just a local café. Take Starbucks for example: they will never be big in Portugal because they have already a huge competition in the coffee selling business and they have the worst and most expensive coffee that you can find in that block, yet they attract lots of people due to two main reasons: an attractive brand (you see Starbucks in the movies and the TV shows with lots of young, attractive, intelligent people), and variety when it comes to all the things you can do with coffee. Even so, they had to adapt and find refuge in shopping malls, when they prefer to be out there in the street.
So they figured out who were their clients, where they should find them and offered them not the same product as everybody else but derivatives from it, supported by an appealing image. So why don’t media companies do the same?
Information is out there, replicated at the speed of light, so it’s not scarce. Quite the opposite, as we know it rages in volumes. And though points of view may vary, the basic info is out there. Cheap coffee on the go. Different types of audiences, at different times of the day, having different needs. Yet the strategy is to serve them all bread and butter. Of course, there’s specialized media for specific audiences – sports, economics, music, etc – but I’m talking about generalist brands.
What was their product? Articles, usually wrapped in paper, that costed more than the product itself. With the internet, they lost the wrapper and the product no longer came in a package, but in pieces. So some decided to put the product in a box and charge for a peek inside. From coffee in paper cups to coffee in digital, exclusive mugs. Still coffee though, and most of the times as good as the competition’s.
The solution is to have more products than coffee, or sell beverages based on the black stuff but that only you can make and charge for it – I bet Starbucks here sells more cappucinos than expressos. This implies three things: new products, trained staff to make them, and know who are their consumers and their needs.
Unfortunately, many media companies haven’t been able to identify their online audience, erroneously believing it’s the same as their paper audience, and feed them the same stuff but in a different container. Worse, with the need to create better, more demanding, high quality products, they’re firing the most experienced to hire cheap labour. It’s like turning a gourmet restaurant with a good chef into a McDonald’s. Yeah, people go to MacDonald’s but it’s crap anyway. And they have their business strategy better defined.
So let’s get back to basics: what are the core elements of the news business?
The amount of products based on information goes well beyond the 500 word article, but here are just a few ideas to use information in a more valuable way:
We have data, specialized professionals with access to specific sources so why not sell special analysis for specific audiences?
Databases are also valuable – imagine offering full access to all the data in archive to all the football matches ever covered in the first league.
Thousands of images are taken everyday by photographers, why not open a photo bank where they could be sold cheaply for specific projects or make them easily available for sharing and create a new stream of visitors to the original story? Think of the long tail.
Go beyond your “natural” market and expand. Have versions in different languages (at least one more, believe me it works).
New languages for new devices, unique content, immersive content.
Stop selling ad space, sell ads that are fit to be published in your environment.
And the one item that must always be constant: high quality information. Fast food will kill you in a more demanding world.
They do not only get the information, they distribute it and create on top of it. Support that. It’s like having millions of newspaper boys shouting out your headlines.
Transform the online audience into real people in the offline world: get to know them, organize meetings, gatherings, conventions. Make them pay for what you offer them there.
People have needs, identify them. The Guardian has a dating site, you could have your own real estate or job agency, whatever people need the most in your market.
Observe how their informational needs vary over the course of the day and the week, and offer them options to adapt your content to their routine. Understanding how your audience consumes news will help you create the right contents for it.
Make information useful. Being just informed is so 1.0. People must have the chance to do something with it.
Instead of giving away books or DVDs with the Sunday paper, sell them cheap on your website.
Stop selling ad-space, get commissions for selling products directly on your pages.
You have a brand, if you get people to identify with it they’ll buy what’s associated with it. I don’t go to Starbucks, but I like their mugs.
And if you want more ideas from me you’ll have to pay me as a consultant. I’m joking, but depending on the strengths of each company there are many different options to make more money than with just the news. You have to evaluate what kind of information based products you can create and see if there are any markets for them, and stop thinking that you’re only a newspaper, or a radio station, or whatever news company fits you. And you are dealing directly with your audience, so you must get the most out of it.
You are a place where people go for coffee but have the option to get pastries, have lunch or a nightcap, and that’s what keeps you afloat. Not the least expensive product on the list.
Though all the reflections about the year are usually made in its last week, I’m only writing them down now. 2010 was an amazing but busy year, so busy I had to leave this post to 2011. Here are my thoughts on it.
The first half of the year I was in Birmingham doing the MA Online Journalism with Paul Bradshaw heading the course. It was probably the smartest thing I have ever done in my life because I got to learn new things and meet amazing people, my colleagues included. I blogged extensively about my time there and some of my experiments during the course with online journalism tools and narratives, so you can browse the blog for more info on that.
I still have a final project to wrap up the MA, and that is one of my priorities for this year. But I’ll talk about this later, because I think I’ll need your help.
In the second half of the year I’ve been working as an instructor – which is different from being a teacher – training journalists to face the needs of the online medium. It has been a rewarding experience, and I’m surrounded by talented, skilled people, with different expertise and with whom I’ve been learning a lot.
In between I wrote a few articles for Journalism.co.uk, a big one for a documentary magazine, worked briefly for a major newspaper defining their social media strategy
And this is the good stuff. Not that there’s anything bad to say about 2010, it was a hell of a year, but with so many things happening I neglected a few things, like this blog. And I kinda lost my mojo (not mobile journalism). I am a reasonable juggler, but not at a Cirque du Soleil level. I had lots of ideas and opinions, you know, the stuff I used to share with all of you and that made me “famous”, but I never got to find the time to post them. That was my biggest regret in 2010, but on the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t, because it made me look at the big picture and see that there are too many “changes” going on. Yes, the inverted commas are supposed to have a ironic effect (both in “famous” and “changes”). No matter how interesting my ideas were, two weeks later they would be outdated.
We saw the iPad craze amongst the media tycoons, which is nothing but a feeble attempt to transport the print logic to a digital device (again). That is not the way, sirs. We watched the Wikileaks effect in different times of the year, and the debate about what is journalism, and what is not. I can say that debate is not journalism, and that once again media focused on the accessory and not on the important stuff. Facebook became the T-Rex of the web, and still many think it’s foolish. Sometimes it is, but it also has big teeth, and it’s smart to be in good terms with it. All in all, instead of broadcasting the news and make their content more interesting and valuable, most media faced the internet like if it was 1999. We’re a bit more advanced than that.
But this makes me happy and more confident about the future. The good stuff will survive and the bad will deliberately jump off a cliff. Never the Darwin theories have been so well applied to an industry.
2010 was year zero, for me and for the future of journalism. Changes are happening in different ways and in different paces, in different places, but the wheels are moving forward. We just have to enjoy the ride. 2011 is going to be the year to do things, after all the learning and thinking, all the mishaps and dead ends. Today is always a good day to start. I just need to be a better juggler.
Just do it, and make it consequent. That’s my motto for this year. What is yours?
PS: by the way, I’d like to thank to all the people that I met this year and helped me move forward, I could have never done this on my own. It’s a long list, but you know who you are. And to those who have always been there for me, well, you know…
This blog has been neglected. There, i said it. Call the Blog Protection Services and i might lose custody. The problem is that i have a reason for that. Several, in fact, but these are the ones that matter, and most of them sound so lame i won’t even bother to list them, like “time” or “i needed a break” or a “fresh perspective”.
As you may know, i’ve been doing the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, under the guidance of Paul Bradshaw, for the last nine months. Best thing i ever done in my life: not only i got to learn with one of the best minds in online journalism, but i also had a great time living in a foreign country, a first for me. It wasn’t a life changing experience or anything like that, but it ‘s damn close. Now that i’m back in Portugal i’m slowly recognizing the effects it had on me, and i’m in what i call a “hangover period”. You know, you wake up a bit disoriented, and wonder about what you’ve done the night before? No regrets in my case though.
But since i was busy as hell, i put the blog aside for too long. I have a list of posts i want to write, and i’m starting to work on them this week. I have stuff waiting to be posted since last year, but now i know how to do it better. So pay attention to the forthcoming posts, i’m back.
Meanwhile, i was doing this MA like i said. I still have one project to do during the Summer, and i’ll talk about it here soon, but you can take a look at what i’ve done in the last six months in this blog post Paul wrote about the assignments and experiments me and my colleagues did.A timeline, the spontaneous online coverage of the Madeira floods, a multimedia project, those were some of my relevant efforts.
I’m proud of mine – though i think i could have done so much better - but my colleagues were great. Read the whole series of posts so you can have an idea of what we were doing. We got in touch with amazing people, and though sometimes the brits seem hard to reach, i met some of the nicest people ever related to journalism. Maybe i was lucky, maybe they were just polite, but what a difference! The small country blues hit me hard sometimes, but then i also realized that in Portugal we are not behind anyone, we have incredible people working in journalism and new media, the problem is that we don’t have many chances to grow. Well, we do, but no entrepreneurial attitude (i had a class on that), fortunately some people don’t think that way. But that’s for another post.
Anyway, i’m on a break now, doing this course in Porto, and then i’ll be working on my Summer project for the MA. And afterwards i may have a job that allows me to do lots of stuff on the side, and push the boundaries of journalism a little further. I have lots of ideas, so all i have to do is work on them, no matter if i stay here or change countries again.
The future is now, and there’s no better place than that.
PS: by the way, the reason why i’m writing english only posts is that writing both in portuguese and english is time-consuming and i’m a bit late, but i’ll try to go back to dual language soon.