Chuck's Q Blog

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Just another ICM blog

Making a buck online

I was talking to someone a few weeks ago who didn’t understand why newspapers publish their stories online for free but make people pay for the print version.

Good question. As soon as they figure out how to charge for the information online — without stifling traffic — they will. It’s a pretty fine line; one the industry is struggling with.

When most newspapers and magazines went to the Web, nearly everything there was free for the taking. Advertising was expected to support the sites — the same as in print — but since the Web gave everyone the ability to become a publisher overnight, a flood of cheap ad placement opportunities diluted the revenue stream.

Many publications attempted to charge for their websites, but even when the fees were modest, the concept was a turnoff to people who only read the paper online.  Read the rest of this entry »

Writing the new rules

Ask any newspaper editor where his company went wrong online and most will say, “We should have found a way to charge for the content.”

Though I’d argue that paper’s aren’t really “giving away” their online content (there is ad support, albeit not the kind that pays when compared to print ads), the new wave of delivery platforms may offer a chance for some news organizations to hit the reset button.

Each new platform will needs to find an audience. Once that happens, it’s up to content providers to decide how to package their product for that platform and what the traffic will bear in terms of pricing.

E-readers, like the Kindle and Nook, have found an audience (though the size of that group is a question). Both established that their products — mainly books, in this case — would be cheaper to buy in this format, but not free.

With the rules of the platform established, newspapers and magazines followed publishers to the e-reader market with subscription-based products. They already knew the people who owned these devices were willing to pay for content.

A single copy of the Columbus Dispatch will set you back $1 on the newsstand. It’s also a $1 on a Sony e-reader and  75 cents on a Kindle or Nook.

The same stories are free online and it’s iPhone app is free as well. (The rules for iPhone apps aren’t hard and fast, but free seems to be winning that fight.)

But when the paper develops an iPad app, how will it approach pricing? Read the rest of this entry »

News in the age of augmented reality

In the last 30 years, the newspaper industry has moved from typewriters to laptops, from “hot” type to “cold” and from black and white to color photos. It’s now in the process of moving from print to digital, which is what I intend to make my primary topic for this course.

I’ve experienced the other changes over the last three decades and I’m on the front line of the next change.

During the recent economic downturn, many newspapers shed jobs to keep the doors open. It didn’t always work. Many closed; others cut staff and tried to make a living online.

One thing they all tried to do was keep their content in front of as many readers as possible. That meant expanding online operations, going mobile and getting into social media.

As part of the Web team at Dispatch.com, I’ve encountered all of those aspects. I’m constantly trying to learn about new tools and how they might be applied in our operation.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a knack for spotting interesting digital trends.

I didn’t invent podcasting, but I saw its value in the early days and launched a show — a first for any newspaper. I set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for the paper as experiments long before most of my peers became interested in them. They’ve both slowly gained a following.

Many publications are using these tools today as alternate avenues to deliver news or bring more readers to their websites.

So, what’s on the horizon?

I’m still trying to figure out how to get us involved in foursquare, I think QR codes could be an overlooked gem and augmented reality seems like it could a transformative engine. I hope we’ll finally decide to adopt CoveritLive soon and I wonder if there’s a place for a Tumblr or Posterous blog in our toolbox. I’m also really excited about the prospects of using the iPad in publishing — maybe not for the daily product, but certainly for niche publications our company produces.

Our company doesn’t have someone assigned to “bird-dog” new tools. As we grow, I’d like to be that guy and I hope my blog entries will help make that happen.

What’s next?

I was interested to read Old TV News Guy’s post about the new study “Life Beyond Print,” which surveyed 3,800 journalists in an attempt to gauge their eagerness to make the transition to digital.

Today’s newspaper journalists have no trouble envisioning a career where news is delivered primarily online and to mobile devices instead of in print, according to a new report by the Media Management Center. In fact, almost half think their newsroom’s transition from print to digital is moving too slowly.

Though I wasn’t surveyed, I’m one of those print folks that has moved to multimedia duties and I couldn’t be happier about it. But there’s no doubt I also feel my organization is moving too slowly towards an all-online model. I came to the realization long ago that the only way for the newspaper newsroom to survive is to realize that we’re a news organization and not just a newspaper. We can do the same thing online as we do in print each day and do it better by utilizing more tools that aren’t available to us in print. But we have to adapt to a different news cycle, staff the newsroom differently and get a better handle on how we present the news online.

The folks who own and run and the company aren’t prepared to embrace that view. While they’re more willing to pay attention now that things have changed, they’re still hoping an economic rebound will bring their advertisers back, which I guess would put them in the “Turn Back the Clock” group.

I don’t know if newspapers will go away entirely, but I do have a feeling we’ve just stepped through the looking glass in terms of a business model. As NYU professor Clay Shirky said earlier this week, “the old models are breaking faster than the new models can be put into place.”

Let’s hope that changes soon.

Q as in Quinnipiac (or maybe Quixote)

My relationship with newspapers began at an early age. As a class exercise in elementary school in Berea, Ohio, where I grew up, we were assigned to write a letter to the editor. When my rebuttal to an opinion by an adult calling for toy guns to be outlawed was published, my parents received several letters suggesting that they were doing a terrible job of raising me. I still have them somewhere.

A few years later, I was old enough to begin delivering the local weekly newspaper. I later began delivering the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which paid much better. But my father eventually urged me to quit. In those days, they dropped the newspapers at the end of the driveway at about 4 a.m. and it frequently woke him up. I argued that it was the only job I could get since I didn’t have a car. It didn’t take long before I got a well-used AMC Hornet (with a flat tire and water in the trunk).

I studied journalism at Ohio State, but left before graduation to work on a weekly newspaper in a small town outside Columbus. After about a year, I got a job on a little daily paper, where I worked as a reporter, sports editor, Sunday editor and city editor over the course of about eight years. Along the way, I eventually finished college with a degree in political science from Capital University, a small liberal arts college in Columbus. Another long stint as a reporter and editor at a small business and legal publication in Columbus followed and then eight years as a copy editor on the business desk at the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s Greatest Home Daily Newspaper (it says so on our sign).

Two years ago, I became a member of the growing Web team at the paper, which had been my goal for a while. As a web producer, I work on Dispatch.com and various niche Web sites. In addition to posting breaking news, photos and videos on the site, I’m the primary audio guy and produce several podcasts, including one I co-host on video games.

You’ve probably heard that newspapers across the country are in trouble. In most cases, circulation has been declining for some time and advertising dollars are increasingly being spent online. When the economy dipped over the last year, it accelerated that decline at many papers, forcing some to close or adopt online-only models. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the last two years, including 25 percent of the editorial staff of my paper this spring.

One of my motivations for returning to school is to improve my skills and make myself more marketable should the Dispatch be forced to make deeper cuts or worse. But I also am approaching this program not only with an eye toward improving Dispatch.com but with the idea of helping advance the cause of journalism in the digital age.

While my editors will tell you that it’s important for newspapers to endure, I think the delivery platform is less important than the process. Most papers are exploring options for charging online customers, but I tend to think there will come a day when newspapers will just be too expensive to print and Kindle-like readers will be the main platform for delivering news. (I’m anxious to see if Apple really releases the rumored tablet device along the lines of a giant iPod touch.) Whether it’s in printed or pixel form, good journalism needs to survive.

I could go on and on (just ask my wife), but there will be plenty of time for that. For now, I’m happy to be part of this program and I’m anxious to get rolling.

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