Wired News: The New Old Journalism

Wired News: The New Old Journalism

Adam Penenberg on reforming the way journalism is taught, tossing aside "objectivity" and opening the profession to "transparent bias."

I’m indifferent, coming from a world where during an interview for my first newspaper job I was hired on the basis of two facts:

1. I could type fast.

2. I didn’t go to journalism school (the editor hated J-school grads). 

Time for a change: The Associated Press as Napsterized news

Time for a change: The Associated Press as Napsterized news

As the news business moves to an aggregated model — Google, Yahoo News, RSS readers — the arms merchants who are building the original reporting have a couple choices.

1. Build the walled garden and keep it to themselves, hoping their value will attract traffic to their ads.

2. Be promiscious and syndicate their stuff anywhere and everywhere.

Here, in the Online Journalism Review, Benz and Phillips urge AP not to charge websites for running AP items, but to "Napsterize" their model.

 

 

IAB report on Internet Advertising Growth

5/24/2004 Press Release

IAB reporting that Internet advertising is topping $10 billion in 04 — 40 percent of that is search advertising.

CPM display and performance based units are neck and neck.

Good news for me, in new role as GM of CXO Online, is that computer services advertising is the biggest category for the spend. 

Yahoo News is re-launched

I’ve kept an eye on Yahoo News since Neil Budde took over the operation late last year. Neil’s reputation from founding the WSJ.com — and stature as the first man to dare to put a national newspaper behind a cost-wall and then succeed at it — makes him a true pioneer in online news.  Like many others in the first wave of online business news — Merrill Brown at MSNBC, Dave Kansas at TheStreet.com — he bailed out around 2000, resurfacing last fall at the helm of one of the biggest news portals in terms of potential to match the much-feared offerings of Google News.

Yahoo News has relaunched and I took a look last night. The first thing that struck me was how vertical the design is — the different news categories are stacked one-atop-the-next vs. Google’s two column horizontal format that leads with top news (as does Yahoo), but then does a side-by-side of each news category.

Second is that Yahoo is playing most-favored-nation status within each category — a tabbed menu for the Business category shows the following headline sources:

AP | Reuters | AFP | BusinessWeek Online | USA Today | NPR | FT.com | My Sources

Click on My Sources and this is displayed: "Sign in to add your favorite news sources from around the web here. For example, popular Business sources are MarketWatch.com, TheStreet.com, and Forbes.com."

Right off the bat I begin to wonder, okay, Yahoo News is giving tabs to those news organizations it did a deal with. That means this has, out of the gate, a high degree of editorial (or business development) pre-selection. Someone made the decision that BusinessWeek Online should lead over Forbes.com. Wonder what agreements were forged for positioning in this most-favored-nation tabs?

Sure, I can go into my sources and set up Xinhua if that is where I want to get my business news. But you know what? I like the machine-based democracy of Google News better. No selection bias. Okay, so AFP told Google News to knock off displaying its content and photos, but Yahoo News was able to come to terms with them, I guess that’s what AFP’s placement in Yahoo’s tabs means.

Sorry Neil. I’m going to stick with the blind impartiality of Google News for the time being. I’m sure this is an improvement over the old Yahoo News approach, but there’s no big kick in the butt in terms of layout, tools, personalization to make me drag the URL down to my nav bar, register, and customize an account. The killer is the pre-placement of the sources. I like the machine-based objectivity of Google, dredging up Michael Jackson stories from the Kerala Times in India, it’s weirdly random and democratic.  The pre-populated placement of sources in Yahoo’s category makes this an exercise in strategic alliances and deals.

MercuryNews.com | 04/26/2005 | Discord over Jobs biography?

MercuryNews.com | 04/26/2005 | Discord over Jobs biography?

Jeff Young is a good buddy and an excellent writer. He worked with me at PC Week and later at Forbes where he was a contributing editor and a contributor to the early success of Forbes.com.

 I love it when a company gets vengeful and does things like boycott magazine’s with their ads (as IBM did to Fortune) or yanks books off of shelves. Apple’s decision to yank all of Wiley’s books from its stores’ shelves is just the kind of publicity publishers would kill for.

Apple is turning into a real friend of the First Amendment — not.  

 

Update: In conversations, some friends are disputing the responsibility of a corporation to assume first amendment ownership, arguing that trade secret protection and IP rights predominate in a corporate environment.  While the press, particularly the trade press, has a long tradition of ferreting out corporate information via anonymous sources inside the company, dumpter diving, and hard leg work — sometimes publishing the results under nom de plume columns such as Mack the Knife and Spencer the Katt — there have been some notable instances of corporation rattling their legal sabers at publishers for divulging trade secrets.

Whatever the legal footing I’ll wimp out and back off the first amendment argument, admitting its specious in the case of Apple allegedly yanking Wiley’s titles from its shelves in retaliation for Young’s upcoming Jobs bio. As a PR tactic, I still don’t understand why corporations play into the controversy by threatening to block the publication of negative news, insuring they will, in the act, create yet more negative news. Sort of the way publisher’s used to welcome a "Banned in Boston" designation in the days when the Watch and Ward Society would encourage the City Censor to ban objectionable books. 

Google ain’t about search any more

The media’s inflation of Google’s reputation over the past two years is typical of the tech press pigpile that takes every new big thing and cover-stories it to death.  Google’s place in the world is certainly due to some smart fundamentals — their design was, and still is, wonderfully functional and spare. Their search methodology is generally accurate and fulfilling. They’ve made some good acquisitions. But to cast them as David to Microsoft’s Goliath, as the next big Borg in technology, dominating everything they touch, is to fall prey to the breathless vapors that saw Netscape in its early days get cast in a role it didn’t deserve, AOL over-inflate to the point of high humor, and Yahoo become the wunderkind of all things digital.

Today’s Saul Hansell piece in the biz section of the Times carries the great quote by John Batelle that Google ain’t about search anymore, but is now an advertising company. Commenting on the news that Google would begin expanding its pay-per-click Adsense model to include "image" advertising, Batelle said:

 "This drives the nail into the coffin of the idea that Google is a search business. It is an advertising business that has nothing particularly to do with search."

Right on, John. And that, my friends, is called taking one’s eye off of the prize. Google is squarely in the business of selling ad inventory to marketers. The premise is context and the premise is neither new, nor, in the end, particuarly compelling.  Google was just the first and best to deliver on the promise of putting scotch ads in front of scotch drinkers. First they did it with text links, now they’re going to do it with rich media.

 From the WSJ.com:

"Among the changes: Google will let advertisers run animated display ads on non-Google content sites that contract with Google to sell ads. It will allow advertisers to specify the sites on which they want their ads to appear, without having to pick a keyword tied to the content on a page. It will begin auctioning ad placements for its partner sites based on how many people see the ad, known as cost per impression, as well as its traditional cost-per-click method."

Publisher’s don’t need to quake. Indeed, some, like CNET and the NYT, have already signed onto the program. Ad agencies and marketers aren’t going to shut their doors to the ad sales force at Fortune and tell them to go away, we’re buying inventory from Google. Never. First off, Google has nothing close to an integrated sale — no conferences, newsletters, special advertising sections and the other side dishes a publisher has to offer. Second, Google has squat for content. Google is a remora sucking on the side of the information industry. If the fish stops swimming, so does Google.

What’s the strategy for co-existing with Google in the advertising marketplace?

1. You can compete with what you don’t know. Publishers should sign-up for, and selectively enable their pages to accept Google advertising. It’s found money, particularly if there is any unsold inventory. Firing the ad sales force and using Google as a rep firm is lunacy.

2. Enable vertical search within their own niche — and every good magazine is about defining a niche — and then deliver new ad units against it. No one can better broker the relationship between reader and advertiser than a capable publisher.

3. Optimize your pages for not only Google, but all engines. That’s found traffic when implemented correctly. I suspect more than 50 percent of arriving traffic is shot deep into a site through search results.

4. Expect, and plan for, the next Google. Google has no defensible advantage in this space. Once we all get over our infatuation with the company — like those publishers did in the late 90s who paid millions for "tenant" space with AOL and quickly figured out it didn’t deliver — another one will come along with a better idea and methodology. Bank on it.

Google needs to focus on search and searching better. It’s desktop search pales against Blinx. Picasa is nice, but no Flickr. Blogger is no WordPress. As Google sticks Wall Street’s needle into its arm, it will scramble to make numbers one quarter after another. My prediction — Google is in the content business within two years, it has to now that it’s turned into an advertising company. 

Update: Google’s Letter to AdSense Publishers

 

Cleaning up the clutter

Ad clutter reduces as inventories flatten — a return to the NASCARization of web pages?

A welcome trend in online advertising is the reduction in the number of ad units per page … welcome to users that is who have conditioned themselves to skip over anything that flashes, dances, or interferes with the content of a page. It’s also a welcome trend for page designers, who can spend months on an elegant page template and palette only to see it trashed by a proliferation of ad units.

 The bad news for publishers and advertisers is the reduction in clutter also means a squeeze on inventories. The 90s saw sites such as Forbes.com get "NASCARed" (to use our term at the time) with dozens of micro buttons that permitted publishers to report up to as many as a dozen "impressions" per page. Since traffic was measured with a dull axe in those days, and because advertisers and their agencies weren’t really measuring performance to any exact degree, people could get away with claiming "billions and billions served." Remember, these were the days when an online publishing executive could stand up and claim that "hits" were a relevant measurement, and when no self-respecting online publisher would admit to anything less than millions and millions of those hits, ignoring the reality that a hit counted every image, every server-side include, and parsed a site into its content components.

The standardization of units by the Internet Advertising Bureau saw a reduction in clutter-ads and a big transition towards bigger, but fewer units such as the skyscraper (which we invented at Forbes), leader boards, big boxes, and other more substantive units.

Bigger is certainly better for all parties, but has lead to the challenge du jour for online publishers — inventory expansion. Want insight into the M&A flurry over the past six months? A rationale for the Times buying About? WSJ.com buying Marketwatch? It all comes down to page views. With internet usage beginning to plateau, publishers have to find the page views somewhere — and syndication, RSS, link sharing and other traffic swaps are only going to carry them so far.

 Last week Doubleclick published a ten-year history of online advertising by its Director of Research, Rick Bruner. He writes:

"… the growth in the number of unique visitors and page views has slowed to an almost negligible rate compared to years earlier. Among the 20 sites with the most display ad impressions, the total number of page views was up only 5% from Q4 2003 to Q4 2004, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. At the same time, the number of display ad impressions in the last year among major U.S. sites is down (5% down for the top 1,200 ad-supported sites; 13% down for the top 20 ad-supported sites). Part of that decline in overall display ad impressions among the largest sites is due in large part to a reduction of clutter, as sites increasingly feature fewer smaller ad units (such as buttons and half banners)

and standardize on the new larger ad sizes promoted in recent years by the IAB (especially extra-large banner “leader boards,” wide skyscrapers and medium and large rectangles)."

 As publishers try to drive traffic to a flattening audience (traffic growth is not infinite), clutter may return. Dave Morgan at Tacoda writes on Click-Z:

"What do we think will happen as increasingly more ad money chases scarcer, slower-growing Web page audiences? Most online ad buyers I informally polled over the past few weeks gave me the same answer: Web pages will become increasingly crowded, expensive, and less desirable."

 Bruner disagrees, saying in his retrospective that the de-clutter movement will continue:

"Premium media brands are likely to attempt to further reduce ad clutter to avoid the risk of turning off their audiences. Publishers that depict the sponsorship value of advertising more transparently to consumers and at the same time reduce interruption-overload will benefit from more loyal audiences

and higher ad prices."

 Something has to give or something needs to be invented. As targeted advertising meets CPC models, insertion technology has to evolve to truly offer contextual advertising, drawing from a pool of ads and placing them in the right place at the right time. The old model of registering one’s traffic to do crude IP look-up serving based on geography has to move much further into clickstream analysis, parsing, on the fly, the session’s attributes and attempting, in real-time to shift the served inventory towards the bias of the user. Falling back to the old NASCAR model of splattering a page with a higher number of units will drive users away.

Traffic development, syndication (The NYT reported huge increases in traffic thanks to its RSS feeds), and better insertion and targeting are the way to fix the dilemma. Publishers need to jack their CPMs to reflect the growing value of their limited inventories, building a performance case to sponsors and advertisers and not falling over themselves to kneel before the altar of Big Numbers.