Category Archives: Audience Development

What do you do with a writer’s work if they screw up?

TechCrunch terminated an intern who accepted compensation from an outside company in exchange for coverage. The announcement strikes an appropriate tone, but it also includes a passage that ties into a much bigger issue: when a writer goes rogue, what do you do with their published work? Here’s how TechCrunch responded:

This was not one of our full time writers, and so the frequency of posts was light. Nevertheless, we’ve also deleted all content created by this person on our blogs. We are fairly certain that most of the posts weren’t tainted in any way, but to be sure we’ve removed every word written by this person on the TechCrunch network.

One big caveat: the intern in question is a minor, so that certainly takes precedence in any reaction. But the intern posted his own follow up. Privacy implications are moot at this point.

And that brings me back to the bigger issue …

In situations like these, if we assume the wayward writer is an adult, and we assume there are no broader legal issues at play, should the writer’s past work be stricken from the record? Is that the right response?

I don’t think so. An enterprising snoop could mine caches and old RSS feeds for past copies, so deletion isn’t really the Draconian measure it’s intended to be. Beyond that, the cat’s already out of the bag. The writer screwed up. The publishing outlet looks bad. And any move to wipe the slate clean will leave lasting residue. So why wipe it clean at all?

In situations where the wrongdoing is already public — whether announced by the publisher or dug up by someone else — what I’d prefer to see is a prominent editor’s note placed at the very top of every piece the writer ever posted on the publisher’s site. It could be a simple link to the termination announcement. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. The New York Times used a similar tactic with Jayson Blair’s articles.

Advertising should be stripped from these pages and comments closed. That’s appropriate — this isn’t a revenue or publicity opportunity. But it’s important to keep the original material in place. The mistake happened in the public sphere. You can’t take that back, but you can be up front about it both in the near-term and down the road.

The Long Tail and iPhone app usage: Nothing surprising here

From The New York Times:

The average iPhone or iPod Touch owner uses 5 to 10 apps regularly, according to Flurry, a research firm that studies mobile trends. This despite the surfeit of available apps: some 140,000 and counting.

I’ve seen the same stat mentioned before. Heck, I referenced that stat in a piece I wrote. But what I find surprising is that anyone is surprised by this. It’s the behavioral equivalent of the Long Tail: a few apps get frequent use — the blockbusters — while the others wane after post-installation popularity or, even worse, don’t get downloaded at all.

Instead of this broad-based stuff, what I’d really like to see is data that links up people’s interests/professions with their most-used apps.

YouTube’s rental experiment wasn’t a failure

This piece looking at results from YouTube’s rental experiment illustrates the short-sighted thinking that handcuffs content companies:

Ouch! We’re talking about 1,422 total views, or $5,673.78 for all of the rentals at $3.99 apiece. If Google is giving the filmmakers roughly two-thirds of the take — and I’m going by other digital-media standards, since the site isn’t publicly spelling out the royalty payouts — each of the five productions will walk away with just hundreds of dollars for their role as video-sharing pioneers over the weekend.

I put this paragraph in the “trading analog dollars for digital pennies” genre. It’s catchy. Reasonable on first glance. But when you dig deeper, it’s ultimately ridiculous.

That $5,673.78 figure isn’t the key. The big deal — and the hope — lies in the 1,422 views. That’s 1,422 chances for filmmakers to have their work seen. That’s 1,422 more chances than they had before. The value of those views lies not in financial rewards (although that would be nice), but as a counter to an artist’s great enemy: obscurity. Isn’t that why film festivals exist? To show off work? To create the possibility of engagement? To create the possibility of landing theatrical distribution? How is YouTube’s effort any different?

Here’s the broader problem with this type of bottom-line analysis: digital income will almost always be lower than traditional income because digital audiences are smaller and empowered. They don’t have to blindly accept what’s given to them. They can pick and choose. They can sample. That’s a powerful set of tools. It means control rests solely in consumers’ hands.

Consumer control is the essential truth of digital content. Until that’s acknowledged — and until businesses are built to work in conjunction with this truth — content companies will spin their wheels, lose money, and whine incessantly.

Hey, journalists, this is why you need a blog

A phenomenal post from Jason Fry at the National Sports Journalism Center:

When I started Faith and Fear in Flushing with my friend Greg Prince in the winter of 2005, I’d been at The Wall Street Journal Online for nearly 10 years. But despite all that time as a Web guy, I’d adopted some rather unhealthy attitudes. I was studiously uninterested in knowing how many readers read my columns, and only took a passing interest in their reactions to them. I thought that my job was to be a thinker and a writer. Worrying about traffic numbers? That was somebody else’s job – and a lesser calling.

This was arrogant and dumb, and a few weeks of writing Faith and Fear showed me that. On my own blog, the numbers were of immense interest to me. I pored over them every day in an effort to figure out what posts were connecting with readers and what posts weren’t. I was singing for my supper, and it made me a better columnist. If a column was well written but didn’t seem to connect, I wasn’t happy with it. I no longer dismissed Web traffic as not my job, complained about writing promos for my stuff, or gave reader comments and emails short shrift. And I realized those folks on the business side were critical to our collective success, and could teach me things. [Emphasis added.]

I’ll add this: journalism’s biggest mistake was allowing business apathy/hatred among the editorial ranks. That’s a far more egregious “sin” than publishing free Web content.

Journalism pet peeves [Ongoing]

An ongoing list of journalism habits that get stuck in my craw.

Audience hatred — You are not better than your readers. You are not smarter than your readers. You can hate readers all you want in your off time, but while you’re on the clock you need to serve them with everything you’ve got. Find value. Create value. Seek viewpoints. Respond to comments. Give a shit. Without an audience, you’ve got nothing.

Killing (tech) — Technologies do not kill other technologies. One might supplant another. The market might choose another. But gadgets do not have homicidal urges (yet).

Lists of pet peeves — That’s right. I’m violating my own pet peeve. No one cares! (And yet, I continue …)

Non-linking — Please. Seriously. Please. If you include a URL in a story, and that story is posted on the Web, you must take the three extra seconds required to link it in.

Stand-in opinions — Squeezing a quote out of a source that just happens to dovetail with the exact point you sought to make does not make you objective. At best, you’re being opaque. At worst, lame. Just say it. Put it out there. I’d appreciate the honesty. Maybe all the time you’ve spent researching and talking with folks has given you — hold on, this is gonna hurt — an opinion of your own.

Stealing and/or non-acknowledgement — I realize journalists are supposed to live for the exclusive. That’s fine. Competition is a good thing. But when you get scooped, give credit where it’s due. Cite the original source and link to the story, even if it’s a hated competitor. They won this battle, maybe you’ll get the next one.

Got others? Please share them below.

Followers aren’t readers, so let’s stop fooling ourselves

Anil Dash follows up his great post on Twitter’s suggested user list with an equally great piece that politely challenges Twitter follower counts. As he notes, analytics and inflated self-importance are nothing new:

It’s a bit like when I worked at a newspaper: Every reporter thought “Well, our circulation is a million copies, that must mean a million people read my column.” Facing the reality that only 10,000 of those people read the column, or that perhaps only 1,000 of them were reading the advertisement on the opposite page, forced a useful and important reckoning into some false assumptions that were underpinning that industry’s workings.

The key here — and Dash mentions this in his post — is to dispel overblown notions so analytics become useful. Follower counts have value, just as page views, uniques, user-session times, circulation figures and subscription numbers do. But all those numbers have to be filtered through the realities of passivity and engagement.

Conferences and custom mobile apps: Yup, that makes sense

Attendees at the LeWeb conference held earlier this month had an extra organizational tool at their disposal: a custom iPhone app.

I cannot believe how much sense this makes. As app frameworks become more common, and development costs come down, I can see a point in the next two years when conference apps move from novelty to must-have. Sort of like Wi-Fi (but hopefully more reliable).

And let’s not forget the sponsorship opportunities here, either. A smart sponsor could use the app to send a hyper-targeted message to a hyper-targeted audience. Toss in some sort of booth contest, and you’ve got the marketing equivalent of the Death Star’s tractor beam.

What we need is a good-better-best approach to digital content

Paramount is out with a new online service that lets customers purchase clips from films. As this New York Times article notes, it’s initially aimed at advertisers and marketers who want to use the clips in campaigns. Consumers will be let in on the action later.

I have a couple thoughts on this:

1. Kudos to Paramount for giving this a shot. It certainly can’t hurt, and we need all the experimentation we can get.

2. I think this is a fantastic opportunity to test good-better-best quality levels. I’ve long thought there’s a way to service different segments of the audience through resolution, features and convenience.

For example, writers, bloggers and others who simply want to reference a clip could grab a lower-resolution version for free (as many already do through YouTube). This boosts awareness and creates branding opportunities for the content provider.

One sidenote: The Times piece suggests folks on the low end — consumers, mostly — may have to pay a low per-clip fee. That’s the wrong move. These aren’t ringtones. Ringtones are a public expression of personality linked to an always-on, always-available device. Embeddable movie clips require placement within media forms, be it a website or a DVD. The all-important personality element is muted. I’m not going to shell out cash if that so-bad-it’s-good movie clip only broadcasts my ironic sense of humor to a limited audience. I need exposure, dammit!

But I digress …

Moving up the scale, companies that want to aggregate clips or make them available as part of another content product could pay a reasonable amount (likely a flat rate for a certain number of clips) and gain access to DVD-quality content. I can see utility here for the education world. A one-stop shop for clips could take a lot of the pain out of the copyright quagmire law-abiding teachers currently face.

On the high end, marketers and advertisers who need full-resolution (1080p, if available) and the absence of co-branding would pay a premium.

What won’t work is an “everyone must pay” declaration. I’m assuming that since this got written up in the Times, and given that a consumer option is part of the longer-term gameplan, Paramount wants this to be more than a back-channel marketers’ tool. Otherwise, why publicize it? This is clearly a public-facing product. As such, it needs to properly service the unique needs of all audience segments.

Social media doesn’t make money directly, but it still has enormous value

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts.

So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter, Facebook, forums and other social media functions rarely make money directly. Their value comes from the attention they gather and the opportunities that attention creates. If you have a mass of people who have willingly opted-in to your messaging, you damn well better put useful, for-pay products in front of them. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a social club.

This recent piece from Forbes does a nice job tearing down the direct-revenue mindset.

My line between edit and sales blurred years ago. It’s not that big a deal

I was fortunate to have my ill-conceived notions about editorial/advertising segregation blown to bits early in my career. It hurt. No doubt about that. I came out of journalism school with all the requisite ethical boundaries and red flags intact. So it was tough to let that go.

But it was so useful to let that go. It made me see that most journalism organizations are businesses. That’s it. All that stuff about objectivity and watchdog roles and the Fourth Estate sounds good, and it feels good, but news companies must ultimately adhere to the same criteria as every other business: does it make money or does it lose money?

That’s why it’s interesting for me to watch others go through the same gyrations now that the Dallas Morning News is moving editorial and sales closer together. I get it. This is hard to swallow. It goes against everything journalists know, everything we’re taught in the vacuum of j-school. It seems dangerous.

But having lived through my own transition, and having traversed some tricky edit/ad terrain along the way, I can tell you the danger is minimal. Perhaps even non-existent.

First off, consumers don’t care. If the content is informative and entertaining and useful, if readers can justify the time and money spent, they’re good. Second, a smart news business understands that it cannot undermine the trust it’s established with the community. This has nothing to do with public interest or greater good. It’s about money. Trustworthy content builds an audience, and audience attracts advertisers. Kill the trust and you kill the audience; advertisers will take their business elsewhere. That’s all there is to it.

Blurring the edit/ad line within a newsroom isn’t a big deal. It’s what happens after the blurring that matters. If the Dallas Morning News cranks out great stuff and serves/educates/helps people, this can work for everyone involved. If they do something stupid — like violating trust by kowtowing to clients — they’re screwed. That’s just business, and bad businesses die.