Do Newspapers Count Online Readers Fairly?

apples and oranges
The way many newspapers count print vs. online readers is like comparing apples and oranges. (Image by telex via Flickr)

Newspaper publishers and advertising managers routinely toss around print and online readership numbers — but sometimes in ways that don’t make sense, and that might even miss opportunities to build revenue, business, and community.

Yesterday Dan Thornton, community marketing manager at Bauer Media, explained why it’s dangerous to compare print figures to Web site statistics.

It all boils down to this…

Thornton points out that in the UK, sales figures for print copies of the Guardian and Observer newspapers typically are multiplied by three to take into account shared readership, based on circulation research. However, online readership statistics generally fail to account for online reading that happens beyond the news organization’s Web site…

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links for 2009-04-21

  • "Newspapers should spend less time trying to disempower the middleman known as Google, and more time trying to think of ways to add value to what they do, and building relationships around their content that Google can’t possibly compete with. In reality, Google is the single biggest source of marketing for their content — a service it provides for nothing. The biggest problem with Carr’s post is that it is only going to encourage the “fight Google” mentality that has caused so much distraction in the industry already."
  • "For much of the first decade of the Web's existence, we were told that the Web, by efficiently connecting buyer and seller, or provider and user, would destroy middlemen. Middlemen were friction, and the Web was a friction-removing machine.

    "We were misinformed. The Web didn't kill mediators. It made them stronger. The way a company makes big money on the Web is by skimming little bits of money off a huge number of transactions, with each click counting as a transaction. (Think trillions of transactions.) The reality of the web is hypermediation, and Google, with its search and search-ad monopolies, is the king of the hypermediators.

    "Which brings us to everybody's favorite business: the news. Newspapers, or news syndicators like the Associated Press, bemoan the power of the middlemen, or aggregators, to get between them and their readers. They particularly bemoan the power of Google."

  • "Nick Carr paints Google as a conventional middleman — an extractor of existing value. But Google, with its efficient, targeted text-link advertising, has actually added value to pages that previously could not be valued at all. Sure, media companies wish they’d done that themselves — I wish I’d done it, too. Now that Google has done so, they have a right to their chagrin; but they don’t have a right to a cut.

    "This is when the Google Tax crowd cries, “But Google News is stealing our headlines!” Let’s put aside the fair-use argument for a minute and also defer the “incoming links have their own value” point. Even if the “Google News is theft” people were right, they are fighting over (relative)crumbs. News people who focus their ire on Google often choose to eye the company’s vast profits, mostly earned from its enormous search traffic, and then — in a rhetorical dodge that is either ignorant or disingenuous — pretend that most of those profits are earned from Google News."

  • Etan Horowitz reports on a BarCamp Orlando session he ran to brainstorm online revenue models for newspapers.
  • Amazon's list of free content for Kindle. If "public" is in publisher's name, it won't appear here though.
  • Today is submission deadline: "We're seeking writers who present accurate information about sexual health and sexual diversity, who resist the assumption that sex-negative religious minorities represent the rest of the country's values, and who give news events involving sexual subcultures enough context and background that their readers can get the whole picture. (View the complete awards criteria.) The Sexies differ from most journalism awards in that readers can also submit articles. Have you read something that you felt was a breath of fresh air? Submit it."
  • Good example of a mainstream news org that's not afraid to link out from the body of its stories — or of referring to investigative journalism done by a blogger.
  • "That study compared a print newspaper with its Web counterpart — as well as with a version delivered to an electronic tablet reader — in an abbreviated sort of life-cycle analysis that considered major inputs like energy used for editorial work, production of paper or electronic components and so forth. The results were interesting.

    "Time spent online, for instance, mattered. So, too, did the locale. In the Swedish market alone, reading the news online for 10 minutes, or even for 30 minutes, or using the tablet reader, resulted in lower CO2 emissions than reading a physical newspaper. In the wider European market, however, things were different. Using the tablet or reading online for just 10 minutes generated less CO2 than the printed product. But when the time spent reading online was increased to 30 minutes, the printed product proved more eco-friendly."

    What does this mean? Hard to say. Certainly differences in power generation matter.

  • A few weeks after I bought the Kindle, I was sitting alone in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, dutifully working my way through an e-book about business and technology, when I was hit with a sudden desire to read a novel. After a few taps on the Kindle, I was browsing the Amazon store, and within a minute or two I'd bought and downloaded Zadie Smith's novel "On Beauty." By the time the check arrived, I'd finished the first chapter.


    I knew then that the book's migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years.

  • "Park Dae-sung, better known as Minerva, built up a huge online following by making largely negative – and accurate – predictions on the economy. When they finally tracked him down in January they found the unemployed 31-year-old picking up his financial know-how by surfing the web and reading mail-order text books.

    "His indictment under a rarely used law of "spreading false information with the intent of harming the public interest" caused a storm of protest from human rights groups, but he is now free to blog again. The court found that however misleading his articles, there was no proof of malicious intent."

1 Million Twitter Followers: Backstory on CNN v. Ashton Kutcher

Actor Ashton Kutcher challenges CNN to a Twitter race. He reached the 1 million follower mark first.

Actor Ashton Kutcher challenges CNN to a Twitter race. He reached the 1 million follower mark first.

Just after midnight mountain time on April 17 actor Ashton Kutcher became the first Twitter user to accumulate more than 1 million followers — winning the race he challenged CNN to by video on Apr. 14.

As Kutcher cross the 1 million follower mark, CCNbrk, which posts current headlines (but not links) from CNN breaking news stories, had just over 998,000 followers.

So what? Is this a publicity stunt and a popularity contest, and mostly trivial? Yes — even though Kutcher did agree to donate $100,000 to the charity Malaria No More when he reach 1 million followers. (However, Ethan Zuckerman pointed out that this charity’s initiative to donate bednet to Africans may be misguided.)

However, there’s an interesting backstory: The CNNbrk account was only recently acquired by CNN.

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links for 2009-04-19

  • "As I’m looking into the [role of Twitter in the] Moldova protests more closely, it’s clear that one of the interesting storylines is the use of the #pman tag for disinformation as well as for reporting on events on the ground. Jon Pincus notes that a hashtag is an open channel – in the same way that the #skittles tag, promoted by the company as a form of viral marketing ended up being used for NSFW posts, it’s hardly surprising that #pman would attrack trolls and disinformation.

    "On the other hand, participatory tools may be particularly effective at debunking this form of disinformation."

  • "For the last couple of months I’ve been receiving repeated emails from my loyal listeners about problems with the RSS feed for Metamor City. Episodes failed to download, or stopped in the middle, or only downloaded after many, many retries. Clearly something was wrong, yet my hosting service insisted that everything was working fine on their end.

    "Now I believe we have found the culprit. The problems appeared shortly after Google bought out Feedburner and compelled me to transfer the feed over to my Google account. Apparently Google has been redirecting the feed to their own archived copies of the show, which has been … less than efficient."

  • I wrote a post at the start of this race criticizing Kutcher for "not getting it." After watching his livecast on for the last few hours, I gladly take that back.

    Kutcher gets new media. His livecast during the race – a continuous live video stream over the internet – was an engaged conversation. He read followers' tweets on air, asked questions, and actively engaged his audience using Twitter. He linked us to YouTube clips and his chosen charity, He advanced his next cause, fighting human trafficking.

    "We can and will create our media," Kutcher said in his victory speech on "We can and will broadcast our media. We can and will censor our own media ourselves. We are over a million."

    All true, though understated

  • Before you rant about borrowing headlines as stealing, remember the interdependent history of news orgs well before the net.
  • if Pirate Bay sinks, file-sharing could simply shift to search engines like Google.

Basic journalism skills: Today’s real world

Today I got an e-mail from a journalism undergraduate with a few basic-sounding questions that I could answer quickly. But when I looked at my answers, I realize they have some more profound implications then she was probably expecting:

1. What is the most important skill you use in your posts on the Web?

Having a good sense of what’s likely to be interesting to the people I’ve connected with (or who I’d like to connect with), and why.

2. In your opinion, what is the most effective way to tell a story online (pictures, text, sound, video, etc.)?

You should know how to use all these tools and know the people/communities you want to connect with, and what their media preferences are (both for media content type, and the tools they tend to use most). Then tell your story in a form that will work best for them.

Stories don’t exist for their own sake, and you are not your audience. It only works if you really connect with people, and that means taking them into account from the start.

3. What is the hardest part about being an online professional?

Anyone these days who’s doing any kind of media work is inherently an online professional in some way, directly or indirectly. People who deny that or try to avoid it make their own careers impossible.

4. What core skills do you think every journalism major should have?

Many, but the most basic one is: How to define and connect with communities. This is the basis of all media activity, including journalism — but too often it’s taken for granted and not studied and understood in its own right.

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links for 2009-04-17

  • Interesting example of social network set up to coordinate volunteers and political action/advocacy on renewable energy issues.
  • Whenever we debate the future of newspapers, inevitably someone asks, "if they go out of business, where will blogs get their stories?" That's a companion argument to "who will conduct investigative journalism"? Well, just as a wide range of journalistic enterprises are conducting investigative reporting (including online news outlets, television stations, and advocacy groups), so too will we get our news from a variety of different sources. In fact, we already do.

    "While newspapers were the most common source of information, they accounted for just 123 out of 628 total original information sources, or just shy of 20 percent. …I will be gleeful when the AP goes out of business. I'm actually shocked at how little we depend on those jerks."
    Out of curiosity, I decided to see where the news we discuss on this site came from the past week, from Monday, April 6, to Sunday, April 12.

  • "Update: There is free, and then there is free, apparently. A Dow Jones spokeswoman wrote to Thursday to say that the company does intend to charge for some content consumed on smartphones "so we have a consistent experience across multiple platforms," though the company is "still exploring its options" and isn't saying when that might happen.

    "They would offer "both free and subscription content, so the idea is to mirror the experience on the site," the spokeswoman said.

    "As a practical matter very little is free on (I subscribe). Eight months after it released its Blackberry app Dow is still saying that "Full access to subscriber content (is free) for a limited time only." There is a free mobile site that has a large sampling of the Journal's content — and even has limited search, which the smartphone apps lack.

  • Would there be a better TV show than plopping Rod Blagojevich in the middle of a jungle and watching him try to find his way out?


    And if a federal judge gives the impeached ex-governor of Illinois the go-ahead, we’ll get to see it. Bizarre? Yes. A possibility? Maybe.

    New show

    We originally told you about this last night. NBC is interested in having Blagojevich appear on the new reality TV show ““I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

    The premise is simple. NBC explains: “Ten celebrities of various backgrounds will be dropped into the heart of the Costa Rican jungle to face challenges designed to test their skills in adapting to the wilderness and to raise money for their favorite charities. Rod Blagojevich will be a participant on the show pending the court’s approval.”

    He needs the court’s OK because he’s facing 16 federal charges which could put him behind bars for 300 years. Yesterday, he asked the judge if he could travel, although he didn’t mention the jungle TV show.

  • Well, no point in paying $10/month for WSJ on my Kindle now… Canceling that!
  • I asked this question on Twitter, which I’ve set up to post to my Facebook account as a status update.

    George Sitting in a newspaper innovation meeting with co-workers. How can I convince them to join Twitter? – 10:36am

    Here are responses, which came mostly from other co-workers, friends and acquaintances on Twitter and Facebook, but also a few random users.

  • "His most important point of the discussion "what are you throwing away" – google thought about links while no one else did – what about other pieces of data are we throwing away that a business can be built around?"
  • "To understand the success of the WSJ subscription model and contemplate what other information-based products might merit a fee, I think you first have to explode another “myth” about I think it’s commonly assumed that we conceptualized, designed and built The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition (as we called it during development in 1994-95 and at its launch in 1996) and then decided to charge for it. Quite the opposite was true. We began with the premise that we wanted to build a “product” that would have sufficient value that people would pay for it."
  • Nobody would have predicted this scene in 1995, amid the heyday of the newspaper business, but the person it might have surprised most would have been the Times’ new publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. Sulzberger, chatting with Esther Dyson, reacts to one of her questions with an incredulous response: “Are you making the assumption that we’re going to put all of our reporters online?”

    "The assumptions at Times Open 2009 included: “when users innovate, support their behavior in your platform” (O’Reilly); data and interaction are as important to journalism as the story (Jacob Harris, Times developer); and “the goal is still widest distribution of our content” (Marc Frons, chief technology officer). Janet Robinson, the Times Co.’s CEO, made an even bolder assumption when she said her 158-year-old newspaper would “use every communications vehicle possible for the next 158 years.”

  • Beginning in August, Columbia will offer a revamped, digitally focused curriculum designed to make all students as capable of creating an interactive graphic as they are of pounding out 600 words on a community-board meeting. The force behind the change is former managing editor Bill Grueskin, the school’s new dean of academic affairs.

    Grueskin wants to make multimedia skills and storytelling mandatory via the school’s core course, RW1, shorthand for “Reporting and Writing 1,” which has, since its inception in the early seventies, stuck to very traditional lessons in beat reporting and on-deadline news writing.

    "But the push for modernization has also raised the ire of some professors, particularly those closely tied to Columbia’s crown jewel, RW1. “Fuck new media,” the coordinator of the RW1 program, Ari Goldman, said to his RW1 students on their first day of class, according to one student."

  • "Of more than 1,100 adults polled in December, nearly 80% said they were very or somewhat more likely to consider buying products recommended by real-world friends and family, while only 23% reported being very or somewhat likely to consider a product pushed by "well-known bloggers."

    "This shows that popularity doesn't always equate to credibility," said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara. "Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there."

  • "If you apply for expensive training in a dying profession, why should anyone trust your abilities to collect and analyze information?"
  • "Punishing times for journalism have been an unlikely boon for journalism schools. Would-be Woodwards and Bernsteins hiding out from the bad economy or learning new skills to compete stormed the admissions offices of top-tier programs last fall."
  • "Obviously there are lots of bloggers covering the local – the scandals, etc. But the vast majority of those blogs are struggling while tech and gossip blogs flourish. I do think there will be a day, however, when this video isn’t a joke – old media reporters will become the new media blogger – and there will be a guy check period for everyone in determining what they cover."
  • At last, some tranportation policy vision that makes sense. High-speed rail is crucial for efficient US transportation and to get us off fossil fuel. No way highways and air travel could match the benefits of high-speed rail. Hope this transportation initiative actually goes some where (pun intended)
  • "Amazon recently banned a customer for making what they considered too many returns, and when they did this they also disabled his Kindle account, although the returns were never related to Kindle purchases. So what happens when your Kindle account is taken away? Your Kindle still works, and the books you already bought for it will work, but you can't download those books ever again (better have made a backup on your PC!), you can't receive your magazine, blog, or newspaper subscriptions on it anymore, you can't email documents to Amazon to have them converted and sent to your Kindle, and you can't buy any new books for the device. That $360 device only works so long as Amazon decides it will work. That's the nasty thing about DRM—it prevents you from really owning things you've purchased."

What’s “Media?” Time to Update Default Assumptions

Yesterday it occurred to me — as I heard about yet another “multimedia workshop” for journalists — how dated and useless the term “multimedia” has become. It’s now normal for media content types to be mixed. It’s also normal for anyone working in media to be expected to create and integrate various types of content (text, audio, photos, video, mapping/locative) as well as delivery channels (print, Web, radio, TV, podcast, social media, e-mail, SMS, embeddable, mobile applications, widgets, e-readers, etc.).

Ditto for the terms “new media” and even “online media”, which imply that channels other than print and broadcast are somehow separate or niche.

The best take on why it’s important to update and integrate assumptions about the nature of media (and how that affects news) is shown in this hilarious skit from Landline.TV:

Here’s where media is at today: In the current integrated media ecosystem, every print and broadcast organization has an Internet and mobile presence — and most of these now go beyond bare “shovelware”. Also, more and more of these organizations are distributing their content online first, making print and broadcast secondary channels (if not secondary markets). In contrast, most media outlets and public discussion venues that began life on the Internet do not have a print or broadcast presence. These vastly outnumber print and broadcast media outlets.

Consequently, when you consider the number and diversity of media outlets, print and broadcast media have become the exception — not the rule…

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Everyblock’s New Geocoding Fixes

Tech Cocktail Conference - 08.jpg
Adrian Holovaty. (Image by Additive Theory via Flickr)

Recently I wrote about how a Los Angeles Police Dept. geocoding data glitch yielded inaccurate crime maps at and the database-powered network of hyperlocal sites, Everyblock.

On Apr. 8, Everyblock founder Adrian Holovaty blogged about the two ways his company is addressing the problem of inaccurate geodata.

  1. Latitude/longitude crosschecking. “From now on, rather than relying blindly on our data sources’ longitude/latitude points, we cross-check those points with our own geocoding of the address provided. If the LAPD’s geocoding for a particular crime is significantly off from our own geocoder’s results, then we won’t geocode that crime at all, and we publish a note on the crime page that explains why a map isn’t available. (If you’re curious, we’re using 375 meters as our threshold. That is, if our own geocoder comes up with a point more than 375 meters away from the point that LAPD provides, then we won’t place the crime on a map, or on block/neighborhood pages.)
  2. Surfacing ungeocoded data. “Starting today, wherever we have aggregate charts by neighborhood, ZIP or other boundary, we include the number, and percentage, of records that couldn’t be geocoded. Each location chart has a new “Unknown” row that provides these figures. Note that technically this figure includes more than nongeocodable records — it also includes any records that were successfully geocoded but don’t lie in any neighborhood. For example, in our Philadelphia crime section, you can see that one percent of crime reports in the last 30 days are in an ‘unknown’ neighborhood; this means those 35 records either couldn’t be geocoded or lie outside any of the Philadelphia neighborhood boundaries that we’ve compiled.”

These strategies could — and probably should — be employed by any organization publishing online maps that rely on government or third-party geodata.

Holovaty’s post also includes a great plain-language explanation of what geodata really is and how it works in practical terms. This is the kind of information that constitutes journalism 101 in the online age.

(NOTE: I originally published this post in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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links for 2009-04-15