The Home page’s place in online media and journalism

This morning, I commented on the Columbia Journalism Review in response to a post about the home page being dead. The author, Ann Friedman, said, “Yes and no.” Since she covered “yes,” I felt compelled to cover, “no.” I was verbose enough that I figured to save it here as well — and just in case it somehow gets lost or “unapproved”. 🙂

Hi Ann,

You seem to lean more heavily on the “yes” side of the dead-ness question, so I’ll put the “no” out there. Not because I say so, but because the data does.

Two years ago, my colleague, Dennis Mortensen, wrote a piece on Nieman Lab covering this same subject – the altered importance of front pages – and the potential for news organizations to make false assumptions from the changing landscape. The charts and data he showed then indicated the overwhelming importance of the home page to drive article views versus other sources, including search, the demon of the day.

He ran that same data last night and put it (and a new chart) into a Visual Revenue blog post this morning. It showed that the homepage continues to be the biggest traffic source for news media. Altered from 2011, but still dominant, by far, accounting for more than half the views, from a sum total of about 15 billion views per month. (This comes from a wide swath of our customer base that includes, ironically, Atlantic Media).

I’ll also add a different take on both the Nieman Lab article and Nick Denton’s Gawker example that you cited.

Niemen editors got it right by highlighting this quote from WSJ’s Raju Narisetti on their page:

“The trick is not to worry about where they’re coming from — the trick is what are they doing after they come.”

There’s also a quote from Bob Cohn at The Atlantic that,

“The old mantra that every page needs to be a homepage has never been more true.”

Both quotes sum up what I’ll call an aggregate view of the media property and its business – not just a one by one article view.

And this is where Denton and Gawker are pointing. He says, “Our strength as an aggregator remains editorial curation.” The distinctiveness of that editorial POV is critical to him and to any other media property that wants to survive in a world of almost limitless properties. How else can they stand out? And how else can they “offer a larger canvas for both our editors and advertisers”?

That, I would argue, is where the importance of the home page remains – for both the business model and the editorial project. And the data would appear to agree with me.

Would love to chat more about this, since it mirrors (to me) the evolution of online and social marketing vis-a-vis TV.

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Are there gas lines at the South Pole?

I have this anecdote that I’ve told people for the last 2 years or more. It goes something like this:

Today, if I have an iPhone or Android, device, it doesn’t really matter where I am, because I have everything I need. I could be on the South Pole, and as long as I have an Internet connection, I”m good. I can see the news, communicate with friends and family, and even watch the Yankee game. And if people need to reach me, that device is proxy for me. Phone, email, text, whatever. Get to that device and you get to me.

Yesterday, all that came back to me as I sat relatively helpless, but comfortable in the line for gasoline, not more than a half mile from my home.  As the hours piled up, it didn’t really seem to matter.  Car charger kept the device alive; Facebook, Twitter, Phone, Text kept me in touch with people close by and people far away.  Old friends fed me info.  Strangers New friends fed me info or interacted.  News reports flowed… even to the disinformation from our public utility on when power would be restored.  And I discovered that my next door neighbor was 15 cars ahead of me.
For all I knew, we could have been on the South Pole.

But when I had to leave this gas line for another one… that’s a different story for a different day… my neighbor offered to join me.  “I’ll take the gas cans, and get in that line, while you get in the car line.”  Strangely, I almost told, him, “I’m fine, I’ve got phone, internet, everything I need.”

But I didn’t.

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Pushing Boundaries: How the Game Has Changed in Online Content

There’s a whole bunch of reasons why things have changed in the content business, but I think this is the most important right now.

This quote is from an article I just read in AdAge about Business Insider’s new revenue generation strategy.  Forget the headline. This is NOT a crazy strategy; it’s also an important shift, but not what I want to point out right now.

They’re talking about BI’s impressive 59% year over year growth to 7.5 million unique visitors in September:

How did it achieve such growth? One way is by embracing a loose definition of what business news is as it continues to expand into new verticals. For example, a recent post on the home page offered readers advice on fantasy football. Ms. Hansen said the site will continue to push the boundary on what it deems relevant to its audience as long as people are reading it and the composition of its readership doesn’t shift drastically. But only to a point.

How are they able to do they do this?  How do they know when to stop?

They pay attention to their audience.  In real time.  And they make adjustments.  Quickly.  They know their brand and how elastic it is and how much they can push the boundaries before they break them.

They have editors who know not only what will work, but why.. and they have real-time data (likely from Chartbeat) and predictive analytics (likely from  Visual Revenue) that tells them what is happening and suggests what they should be doing.  The smart data doesn’t replace good editors, but it makes smarter editors who make more informed decisions.

This pays off for their readers who get more of what they want, whether that is slide shows or Kardashians or Supreme Court legal briefs.  And it pays off in revenue, because those users stay; they share; and they come back for more.

And it will pay off for the advertisers who decide to take part in this “crazy strategy.” Because if it doesn’t, they’ll find out in real time.  And they’ll adjust until it does.

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Is All of Your Business None of Your Business?

Bang Bang Bang. The first three things I saw or read this morning were all about privacy and the coming war over information, big data, tracking, and digital life. If you haven’t thought there is a coming war battle over how other people, companies and institutions are using the bread crumbs of your digital life, think again.  Individuals (and institutions) are drawing battle lines on how much control you have over your personal big data.

1. Do Not Track
If Microsoft thought it would be easy to deploy “Do Not Track” by default in its IE10 browser (as a means to protect consumer privacy), they thought wrong.  Way back in May, Ryan Singel of Wired, wrote a column pondering the implications and impact of essentially vaporizing 25% of the online media audience:

Consider this scenario: If indeed the net’s major advertisers obeyed Do Not Track and IE 10 keeps the default, more than a quarter of the net’s users would be opted out of behavioral ad tracking by default. That’d be a far cry from a purely opt-in system that might be used by a single-digit percentage of opt-in users — those who likely don’t click on ads in the first place. So that could make the online advertising industry back out of the process and decide not to implement DNT — or to write its own rules for how it interprets DNT.

Highly prescient Ryan. It looks like the giants of advertising won’t take this sitting down. After all, there’s a lot of money at stake.

2. The App Monsters
Sure it’s easy to download an shiny new app and use Facebook to log in. But god only knows what’s in fine lines of the terms of service and what permissions are being granted. How often do you read them?  How often do you pause before saying, “Never mind.” And what potential evil lurks inside the app you thought you wanted, but now sits somewhere in the deep recesses of your iPhone’s 5th screen full of apps.

If you’re wondering how to clean up that mess, here’s a (partial) solution.

3. The Law
This one takes the cake.

Imagine that you’re the victim of a horrendous crime. Now imagine that the defense attorney for the perpetrator of the crime subpoenas your Google search history.  Awful. On the surface, this might just move lawyers (as a group) into the next circle.  From NBC News:

“After Jennifer Bennett of Bend, Ore., was brutally beaten and raped, she decided to press charges and was shocked when attorneys for the man who assaulted her subpoenaed her journals, computer, and search engine records. NBC’s Diana Alvear reports…”

You can view video here.  It is, of course, preceded by an ad.  How targeted that ad is depends on your preferences.

My point is not to dig into each of these very complex issues.  I’m only scratching the outside surface of each. But pay attention.  The benefits of our lazy, convenient, technology-aided hyper-efficient digital life are beginning to bring out the ugly underbelly of the Internet.  Make a comparison for each of these examples to their pre-digital counterparts and the scenario seems comical.

But that’s not the world we will live in today… or next week.

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All The Perspective that’s Fit to Print

So much for unbiased, huh?

For several years now, I’ve used the saying, “News is a commodity. Perspective is not.” It has been my way of explaining why most general news outlets have struggling businesses and those that are filled with opinions, ideas and more have a greater chance of survival among the infinite number of voices out there.

I just came across yesterday’s Sunday New York Times. It used to be a regular read from me every Sunday morning, but now, more often than not, it’s confined to “Anything I need in here before I toss this in the recycling for Tuesday morning?”

I realize this is the (subtly identified) opinion section of the paper, but this was a whole-hog above the fold, screaming tabloid headline.  And it said something to me:

One more media vehicle has clearly chosen to wear the badge of its opinion perspective rather than the badge of unbiased news and information.

Granted, the New York Times has always leaned left. So much so, that for as long as I can remember, my dad has referred to it as “The Worker.” And while I get the Gerry Ford reference, this was not a tabloid headline in the Daily News.  This was the (once venerable) paper of record.

The news is officially dead. Long live perspective!  Proceed with caution.

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Inspiration & Adaptation. Adaptive & Adoptive.

Years ago, one of my mentors preached the importance of being adaptive and adoptive.  By that he meant (or at least this is my take),

a. don’t be so caught up in yourself that your unable to change your ways.  Things are going to change quickly, and you need to deal with it.

b. don’t be afraid to take action when you see something that’s good… from someone whom you  trust and/or respect… and add it to your repertoire.  They’ve likely spent a lot of the time that you’re about to spend thinking about it.. sweating over it… losing sleep over it… and just plain wasting time on it before you get it done.

Now, the important part of part B here is that you choose wisely.  Don’t go willy-nilly adopting things from knuckleheads… (or more likely those who have not thought them through). 

So when you see something that inspires you (like the WordPress Quick post form), use it.

Thanks Scott.


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Startup MarketingSchool (#sumktg)

Tonight, I’m running the second installment of something called Startup Marketing School in NYC. It’s something that was inspired by this blog post from Charlie O’Donnell and the subsequent conversations that he and I had about the topic.  He should get most of the credit for making this event happen — in the same way he’s done for a lot of similar tech events in the city.

I’ve told most of the participants in #sumktg about those origins and pointed them to it.  I’ve also explained a little bit about the framework of content and how we got to the five sessions.  It’s based on how I think about marketing in new companies and new organizations, based on my experiences in them.

But I awoke this morning and realized that, before the content rolls too far and the speakers add their perspectives on each specific topic, it might be a good idea to reiterate the framework.  What we’re trying to address, after all, is the specialization that keeps junior marketers from big picture thinking.

Central to that thinking (and our curriculum) are three core areas to address in the startup marketing function.  If you focus and excel at these three (“divide and conquer” for those playing buzzword bingo at home), you should be able to manage your most important tasks and achieve your objectives both as a new company and as a distinct and powerful brand.

Developing a Brand.   What is the story behind your business?  Everything from the web site and core messages to the behavior and tone of messaging, PR, and ultimately achieving a desired perception and position in the marketplace.

Developing Cases and Content.  How do you package and distribute that story into the marketplace?  Telling it yourself, through your customers, and through your advocates.

Developing a Customer Base. What’s your plan to acquire customers?  This is the difference between a business and a science project.

I divide and think of them distinctly, but they clearly overlap. The overlap is important because they must mesh and support one another.  Like three legs of a stool, if one of them breaks, you land on your butt.

These three pillars provide the heart of our content.  Sessions 2, 3, and 4.  We’ve surrounded them with an introduction on how it’s different to be a startup marketer (versus one with established processes and resources), and a closing session on measurement (hint: it’s critical to your focus, efficiency and progress).  For a good review of session 1, check out Jeff Grill’s post on it.

Overall, I think it’s a good framework.  Tonight’s session, “Developing a Brand and Positioning It to Stand Apart from the Crowd” is overloaded with smart speakers, so my biggest concern is managing the time.  We’re talking startups, so why should it be any different?

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Democracy, Bubbles and the Real time Internet

I have a friend in the news business who had the pleasure (is that the right word?) of covering the whole Debt Ceiling Crisis from Washington over the past week.  Instead of broadcasting from a studio in NY like he normally does, he was on the scene at the Capitol for three days straight, and when he got back, I asked him, “So how was it?”

One of the coolest parts was, he said, the grandiose stage.  But it wasn’t just that.  What you see and feel when you’re standing inside the Capitol building is impressive.  Being there is inspiring; because it’s not something you see or feel every day.  Except, of course if you work there every day.  And that, as my friend and I discussed, is the problem.

Those who work inside that dome live inside a bubble — and they are changed by it.  Everything that goes on — from the coverage to the catering (no, not food) to the cameras that are regularly beckoning them – builds importance in the tasks at hand, and it builds their own perception of their role in it.  I put a link on the word, “grandiose” for a reason. Go back and click on it.  You’ll find a lot of synonyms, but not the word, “productive.”

My friend and I talked about several other culture where we see this bubble dynamic.  Wall Street.  Athletes.  Celebrities.  It’s interesting how sub-cultures create this.  They talk amongst themselves; they live differently; they grow insular.  But they’re not the only ones.

Today I moderated a roundtable discussion about the real-time Internet. It was a dozen entrepreneurs talking about how data, access to it, and the tools being created to corral it are creating better, faster businesses and a different Internet experience for everyone.  These guys ARE productive.  Their stage is not nearly as grandiose, but it is intertwined with how everyone gets their information today and, more importantly, tomorrow.  (More on that in a future post).

Very early in the conversation, Irving Fain brought up The Filter Bubble, a concept/book/TED presentation by Eli Pariser.   The video is below.  It’s compelling and brief.

Take a look.  And you’ll begin to look at the Web differently.  And you might ask, “What bubble are you from?”
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Fragmentation and Building a Marketing Machine

This morning, I read a very solid blog post from Charlie O’Donnell about building a marketing machine in a start-up.  Charlie is a very well-known name in NYC Tech circles, and although I don’t know him personally, he has one of the best names for a blog of anyone I know: “This is going to be BIG…”

Charlie humbly stated his point as theory, but it’s a hypothesis grounded with a lot of evidence.  Like several others, I added my comment, but I ended up writing more than I originally intended.  It made sense to re-purpose some of those thoughts here, because there was a bigger issue to address, namely fragmentation.  I encourage you to read Charlie’s post, and all of the intelligent comments on building a marketing machine, including mine.

Fragmentation driven by technology is one of the biggest issues we face today.

Not just in media, marketing and technology, but everywhere.   It used to be just a word for media planners talking about audience size.  A few years ago, I told people that Twitter was the poster child for fragmentation, because in addition to audience, content was being cut into fragments (of 140 characters). I consistently think of targeting as the twin sister of fragmentation, because it’s the positive opportunity created by it.

Unless you can re-aggregate the pieces or move with some comfort from one niche to the next, it’s a problem.  It’s a growing enemy.

Fragmentation and specialization affect talent and recruiting, as Charlie points out, becoming the enemy of well-rounded experiences.  It has affected journalism (for better or worse) as James Fallows wrote in a long, well-worth-the-time-article in The Atlantic this past spring.  There, it is the enemy of thoughtful perspective.  And fragmentation is crippling Washington at the moment, where politicians have conveniently jumped into their ideological communication silos and chosen to ignore or refute anything outside of it.  It has become the enemy of teamwork.

These things can cripple your start-up.  Or they can cripple your society.  Or they can cripple your goverment, if you’re not careful.  And that’s something that is ALREADY BIG.

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Real-time Content: Beware of Breaking News.

There’s always breaking news out there somewhere.  But the question has increasingly become, “Is it really important to me?”  More often than not, we’re becoming numb to it.  One man’s breaking news is another man’s, “Who gives a damn?”

Some of that apathy certainly is attributable to the boy-cried-wolf syndrome developed (especially by those of us in and around New York) over terror levels and assorted other media hype in the post 9/11 world.  But much more of it has to do with the changes in media (publishing, broadcasting and consumption) that have happened in that same period.  Real time content and connections have made “curation” the buzz-word of the year, and deservedly so.

Next week, Pluggedin’s August roundtable focuses on how companies are building businesses using all of the real time data, content and analytics. I get to moderate, and therefore talk with a lot of smart people on the topic.  If you’re in New York next Wednesday morning August 3rd, join us for the discussion.

Social technologies and mobile devices mean that words, images, and video now travel faster than the speed of sound, across the street and around the world. And everything from meaningless to the momentous can be captured and documented. Join us for a discussion on how new businesses are building the means to measure, filter, curate, and monetize the social and contextual streams of information that are blasting us from every direction.

Among the participants are Socialflow, YieldBot, Sociocast, Samepoint, ChartBeat, LocalResponse, Cognitive Match, Buzzfeed, CrowdTwist, Localytics, Eyeview, and The Flow.   Most of these companies you’ve likely never heard of.   A year from now, that’ll be different.

Oh, and if you’ve got something to say on the topic, share it here.

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