Skin in the media game: Smart investing in the attention economy

Ian Ransley, via Flickr (CC license)
Do you treat online media like a spectator sport, or do you really have skin in this game?

Recently, my Poynter colleague Roy Peter Clark caused a stir with his article Your Duty To Read the Paper. There, he wrote:

“I pose this challenge to you: It is your duty as a journalist and a citizen to read the newspaper — emphasis on paper, not pixels.

“…And here’s why: There is one overriding question about the future of journalism that no one can yet answer: How will we pay for it? …Until we create some new business models in support of the journalism profession, we’ve got to support what we have.

“…I have no proof, but a strong feeling, that even journalists, especially young ones working at newspapers, don’t read the paper. That feels wrong to me — and self-defeating. So join me, even you young whipper-snappers. Read the paper. Hold it in your hand. Take it to the john. Just read it.”

Oh yeah, that piece drew a lot of criticism. It’s also generated useful discussion, in the 83 (and counting) comments to that post and elsewhere.

This may surprise my regular readers, but I don’t think Clark is entirely wrong. Part of what he’s saying is that if you’re in the media business, eating your own dog food is crucial context. I’d add that you should not just eat one flavor, but the whole damn menu.

Here’s my take: If you work for a media organization that publishes a print product, you should indeed read the print edition regularly. You should also read the online edition regularly — including the comments and forums (if any), and explore the multimedia and interactive offerings.

But don’t stop there…

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links for 2007-09-12
Could a targeted online ad network like Lime’s help support environmental journalism?

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Fixing Old News: How About a Corrections Wiki?
Any news org should be able to do more with corrections than this…
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
Or this… What? You can’t see the corrections on that page?
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
…Look way down here in the corner

Even the best journalists and editors sometimes make mistakes. Or sometimes new information surfaces that proves old stories — even very old stories — wrong, or at least casts them in a vastly different light. What’s a responsible news organization to do, especially when those old stories become more findable online?

On Aug. 28, co-founder Scott Rosenberg posted a thoughtful response to a Aug. 26 column by New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt: When Bad News Follows You.

In a nutshell, the Times recently implemented a search optimization strategy that increased traffic to its site — especially to its voluminous archives. This meant that stories from decades past suddenly appeared quite prominently in current search-engine results. The Times charges non-subscribers to access archived stories.

Hoyt wrote: “People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.”

“…Most people who complain want the articles removed from the archive. Until recently, The Times’s response has always been the same: There’s nothing we can do. Removing anything from the historical record would be, in the words of Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor in charge of maintaining Times standards, ‘like airbrushing Trotsky out of the Kremlin picture.'”

Hoyt’s column offered no options for redress. He didn’t suggest that the Times might start researching more disputed stories or posting more follow-up stories. Nor did he suggest that the Times might directly link archived stories to follow-ups.

Rosenberg asserts that the Times has an obligation to offer redress. Personally, I agree. Plus, I’ve got an idea of how they (or any news org) could do it — and maybe even make some money in the process…

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Feeds: Getting Pretty Mainstream

David Chief, via Flickr (CC license)
How many people use feeds? Probably a whole lot more than you think.

In my Aug. 21 post, It’s not about your site anymore, I talked about how web sites are becoming less important for online content distribution as RSS feeds (with their many uses) are enjoying increasingly mainstream usage.

Basically, the trend is that more people are more interested in getting the content they want delivered to them wherever they prefer to be, rather than having to make a special “trip” online to someone’s site. And they’re using lots of popular tools to do just that.

Reader Steve Sergeant (of The Wildebeat, a great podcast) responded with a perspective I’ve heard often. He said:

“I agree that this is true for the bleeding-edge, early adopters, among which I count myself. …But in my experience, the average news consumer and person with a non-media job often has no idea what an RSS reader or aggregator is. Sure, an adventuresome few have discovered iTunes for podcasts or some server-side aggregator, like My Yahoo.”

While it may be true that most net users aren’t yet using feeds (or perhaps most of them are, I just haven’t found current statistics on that), earlier research and current trends indicate that feeds may have already grown far more popular than conventional wisdom might lead us to assume.

Furthermore, I think general ignorance of the key role that feeds play in supporting many of today’s most popular online-media services and experiences may be causing significant harm — especially to journalism, and thus to democracy and other forms of self-determination.

Sounds extreme, I know. Hear me out…

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Community site shuts down; whither goes the content?

Internet Archive
At one time, Zipingo apparently offered a fair amount of content. (Click image to enlarge) Now it’s gone.

This morning, I learned via the Ajax blog that yet another site that relied on content contributed by its user community has shut down. On Aug. 23, Zipingo, a small business review site launched in 2002 by Intuit, shuttered its site. All that remains is this announcement — none of the other site content remains accessible.

But looking on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I saw that, at least as of Mar. 1, 2007, Zipingo offered a fair amount of content: 122,324 total ratings (I’m not sure if “ratings” were actual reviews or something else on this site), 734 of which came in during the prior week. Unfortunately, you can’t look up actual ratings/reviews via the Internet Archive.

So all that content that people took the time to create and contribute has simply vanished, apparently. Seems awfully disrespectful to Zipingo’s user community, such as it was. This is yet another reason why sites like Furl, which allow you to save your own searchable archive of web pages, can be crucial — things get moved, changed, or deleted all the time online, without notice. Even your own stuff. That can suck.

Seems to me that any site that relies on contributed content should have a content exit strategy, whereby if the site tanks people can still access their content. Or at least, contributors will be notified before the site vanishes so they have an opportunity to save a copy of their contributions if they so desire. Just taking people’s content and trashing it is likely to discourage anyone from contributing to a community site.

Also, this experience seems like one more reason why a good “Me Collector” tool or service is needed.

It’s Not About Your Site Anymore

Amy Gahran
In your own home, you get to put the couch where YOU want it. Who cares if that’s not the living room?

Here’s another reason why learning to use a feed reader is a cornerstone skill for truly succeeding in online media today:

It’s not about your site anymore.In fact, it hasn’t been for at least a couple of years now.

In other words: The way online media works today, you’ll probably succeed more through participation and off-site distribution (syndication) than through publishing alone.

More and more people — especially, but not exclusively, younger folk (you know, the people you hope will become your community or customers someday) — prefer to craft their own custom hubs for information and interaction. That’s what’s driving the popularity of feed-supported, syndication-oriented social media experiences like Facebook, MySpace, MyYahoo, iGoogle, Digg,, YouTube, co.mments, Twitter, and podcasting. (And, on the bleeding edge, Zude, CoComment, and Pageflakes.)

It’s kind of like furnishing your home…

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What to Do BEFORE You Start to Blog

Joe Shlabotnik, via Flickr
Want to try business blogging? Don’t just dive in.

You’ve probably heard that blogging is good for your business. If you haven’t already started blogging — WAIT! Leaping into this medium cold is the most common and damaging error I’ve seen.Before you do anything else, figure out which groups you wish to engage in a public conversation.

Next, figure out where they already spend time online…

Go where they are, and start following their existing conversations. Depending on your niche, this part can be trickier than it sounds. It means spending time searching through blog search engines like Technorati and IceRocket to find blogs that are already succeeding in attracting attention from your core communities.

It also means exploring other types of online media — bulletin boards, e-mail lists, wikis, virtual environments (such as Second Life), and citizen media sites (such as to find good matches. Web sites of local or regional mainstream media also can be useful to watch if they allow comments and foster public discussion in your core communities.

The ideal outcome of this research is a short list (just 3-5 blogs or other sites) that you should start reading on a regular basis…

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Discovery Buys Treehugger

Good match? We’ll see.

Who says there’s no money in environmental publishing? Today one of my favorite environmental sites, Treehugger, announced it’s been acquired by Discovery Communications (owner of the Discovery Channel). Mashable reports (secondhand) that the price was $10 million.

Now that’s a whole different kind of green!

Treehugger is a very ambitious site, with a large and devoted online community — and even its own social bookmarking service, Hugg. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with it now.

I really know nothing about Discovery’s operations, culture, or attitudes. Does this company really “get” online, social, and conversational media? I sure hope so — because it’s a whole lot easier to kill a community than to grow one. We’ll see…