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No Reader Left Behind: What’s Wrong With a $1,000 Subscription?

It’s nice when a news blog grows up. If you don’t live in New York, or care about its politics, you’ve probably never heard of Capital New York, which was recently bought by Politico. And there’s plans to juice it up, in the style of Politico Pro, by charging an estimated $1,000 yearly subscription. Talk about a paywall.

This is good, because the quality of journalism over at Capital is first rate. It’s already a “must read” for political junkies here. And Politico is on point about using the ‘freemium’ model to make their brand of news a money tree.

But when you make something so exclusive that only Michael Bloomberg can really afford it, how does that fit into the mission of a news blog like Capital, whose mission is, according to their site (emphasis mine):

Capital is an online news publication about how things work in New York, founded in 2010. We report on important local people and institutions, with the aim of sustaining a conversation with a knowing audience about things they don’t already know.

There’s something to be said for running a publication and making it this valuable. But I’m still an idealist. What happens when the cheap content for the poor, but knowing audiences, starts to stink because it’s not profitable? The New York Times costs almost $200 a year, and even they’re launching cheaper products. I’m glad there’s options in terms of business models. I’m just scared about this one.  

 

Image via AMC

Should We Do Away With the Comment Section?

Once upon a time, I believed comment sections were content, too. And on some sites, I liked to read them. But now, Gawker is putting native advertisements in them and I think we should just do away with them. Yes, just get rid of the comment section.

It’s actually a very interesting move. Gawker sites have a huge, vocal following. There’s no reason they shouldn’t monetize that by putting Bill Nye in the Gizmodo comments.

There are actually very few online pubs and blogs that have good comment sections. Most online comments are not useful and often just plain old mean. I cheered when the Huffington Post announced it was no longer letting users comment anonymously. But if you take away the anonymity, maybe it’s best just to do away with them all together. It’s becoming more and more of a hassle — create an account, sign up for the newsletter, add an avatar — to comment anyway.

I used to believe that comment sections were a sign that the internet (back when it was called ‘the net’)was democratic  and a place for the open exchange of ideas. But now it’s about fighting with a troll about politics, or writing tangents to news stories that you should just post to a blog. You know, be productive, ‘own what you think.’

I feel like the comment sections should be the most authentic part of the webpage. But if even they are sponsored and –coming soon, right? — focused on going viral? Get rid of them altogether.

If you have something to say in response to a story or want to laud a writer – take it to Twitter. Write an email. Get your own blog. Just don’t do it in the comments.

Are We Stuck with Hashtags and Like Buttons?

The coverage on Nieman Journalism Lab yesterday of the Engaging News Project pretty much ruined my coffee break as I clicked through the research: there are few things I love more than seemingly wonky research about journalism and democracy. Especially when it’s put in action. Talia Stroud’s research shows, in the most simple explanation, that when you change the language, it can also change how people engage with your website. That should perk most of our ears up. If you want, you can already start making your readers ‘Respect’ stories instead of ‘Like’ them with a WordPress plug-in.

What you can’t make people do, according to her research, is actively seek out information that goes against their views, or their niche. That sounds like old news to me. We’re all in our own little ‘bubbles’ to use Bill Maher’s lingo. That’s bad for democracy, but good for online publishers. It also has something to do with why magazines have fared better in a digital landscape. Chris Hughes of The New Republic spoke to a lot of like-minded, nodding heads this week about how readers (users? can we agree on a terminology?) still look for ‘curated editorial experiences’ whether online or off. That’s something not easy to do with a daily news site, but the goal of most magazines — whether it’s the New Republic or Slate or Field and Stream. 

Apart from saving democracy from ourselves online, the Respect button has my head spinning for another reason. In terms of design and user experience, it’s hard for pubs to break out of the Web 2.0 standards whether it’s about asking readers to like things, comment, or use hashtags. I’m sure there are many strategists and design experts who haven’t slept considering the same things.  I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that everything starts to look the same, all the time. I don’t know for how much longer I even want to ‘like’, let alone ‘respect’ content online, although that’s the formula publications work with to determine all the numbers that make up their bottom line.

Maybe it’s the stormy weather on the East Coast that has me thinking too much about it — but what do you think? If we’ve moved past Web 2.0 and onto the semantic web, how does that affect how we’ll have to start thinking about reader engagement and page design? Is it just that we’ll  be able to better search our hashtags and generate more niche content to read? 

3 Ways to Up Your Reader Engagement

We all have social media and digital best practices coming out of ears. But after thinking about how big media companies make their dough, I realized that, although there aren’t always the resources and staff and innovation teams at smaller papers, there are some simple, almost silly, tips smaller papers can take from the behemoths in terms of reader engagement. Things that make your organization seem relevant and savvy.

1. Go Vice

Ok, you don’t have to start covering the sex beat in your town, but start thinking outside the box. Vice isn’t just a magazine anymore, it’s also a production company, and a marketing agency. Is there a crime beat reporter who could easily start posting video reports along with his written one? Are there events or causes you could sponsor that you aren’t? Run a summer program where high school students can run their own vertical. Nothing is more niche than a local hometown. Be all over it. If there is a kinky sex beat, start covering it.   Read more

What You Can Learn From Profitable New Media Companies

It ain’t easy being in the media business these days, or so they say.  There are in fact lots of people allegedly, or actually, raking in digital dollars, according to this article from Fortune. They’re all content producers with a journalistic twist. They are all different in their own ways, but you can parse out some ingredients for financial success in the industry. 

Not surprisingly the top, profitable companies are: The Huffington Post, Gawker Media, The Awl, Business Insider, SAY Media, Vox Media, and BuzzFeed. 

So what sets them apart?

 1. Niche, Niche, Niche

Choire Sicha of The Awl says they only want to be read by ‘smart people,’ and as it’s grown, it’s added other niche sites to its cache, like the female focused The Hairpin. Business Insider lives off of business and technology news and gossip, straight from the mouth of editor ‘Wall Street bad boy’ Henry Blodget. Gawker peddles snark, and BuzzFeed caters to culturally in-tune Millenials and their parents. HuffPo is grandfather of all of them — they have the verticals and dedicated, SEO hungry, writing staff for everything. By dabbling in it all, they essentially cater to segmented, yet focused, audiences. All of these organizations are like the good old magazines of the paper days: each site has a distinct look, feel and tone, reminiscent of say, Sassy or even Spin. It’s no wonder that Jane Pratt is part of the profitable crew under SAY Media. All of this ties into the next thing profitable companies have in common…  Read more

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