Savvy Articles About Change or Its Lack in News Media

On July 31st here, I wrote about the need for Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication to produce more practical research to help media industries faced with radical changes and two days ago I reported about commentary my call produced. For reasons I mentioned on the 31st, I didn’t attend the AEJMC annual conference this year, instead following it last week via Twitter (unfortunately, AEJMC doesn’t webcast).

From what I understand from the tweets, the AEJMC conference didn’t produce any fruitful focus on research that might help the industries survive. Some academics respond that research about how to train journalists to write well and report objectively certainly helps those industries. That’s true, but I worry about if there will viable media industries and jobs for those well trained journalists unless those industries can reverse their declines. It’s fine to produce a fine tool, but it’s worthless unless anybody use it.

Nevertheless, from the tweets I saw, there was indeed a sea change at AEJMC this year–the growing primacy of New Media as people’s way to access news and information.  My Newhouse School colleague, Associate Dean Hub Brown described it well.

I’m glad academia is noticing a change that’s been underway for at least half a decade, when the majority of homes in post-industrial countries began using broadband Internet. A world way from AEJMC, Sky News and others in Australia are reporting that the board of directors at Fairfax Media, has ordered a strategic review of the company’s structure and management and a much more aggressive approach to the Internet side of its business because investors have criticized Fairfax’s Internet strategy. There is now talk of building website paywalls, combining print and online managements, and even ceasing to print and going fully digital. Fairfax publishes  The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, and other newspaper in Australia and in New Zealand it publishes The Dominion Post, The Press, The Sunday Star-Times, and other newspapers.

Last week, Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, founder of TACODA and Real Media, and the former general counsel and director of New Media ventures at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association warned that

I know the last thing that local media companies need is another Web-driven disruption in their markets, particularly one that could take a big chunk out of their revenues in the next few years. If local newspaper, yellow pages, radio or local TV companies thought that Google, Yahoo, eBay and craigslist were disruptive, they are now going to face down a competitor that will have an even bigger impact on their businesses than any one of those companies did.

I believe that location-based Web services will take 20% to 25% of the annual revenue out of local media’s current advertising base within four years. Yes, 20% to-25% of their revenue base will be lost by 2014. That spend will be displaced by promotion and marketing fees paid to these new location-based services or applications that run on top of them. To the incumbent companies, these new services will be like craigslist on steroids.

I think he’s right. Read the rest of his warning at MediaPost.

Another savvy article that cuts right through the fog is Robert Niles recent article, The only metric that matters, published in Online Journalism Review:

In the nearly 15 years that I’ve been working online, I’ve watched the most popular metric among Web publishers change from “hits,” to “page views,” to “unique visitors” to “time on site.”

But none of those metrics really matter. I’ve seen sites post phenomenal numbers for each of those categories, and fail. There’s one metric, and only one, that truly matters in determining your websites’s commercial success.


Your visitors can spend hours per month on your website, but a huge “time on site” value by itself won’t entitle you to a dime (see Twitter). I suspect that one reason why various Web metrics fall into and out of favor over the years is that managers talk up or down those metrics based on their website’s individual performance. Someone notices that people are spending more time, on average, on the website, then he or she gets on a panel at a news industry conference and – boom – “time on site” becomes the metric everyone needs to consider.

Like Robert, I’ve seen publishers chase ‘hits’, ‘page views’, ‘unique users’, ‘time on site’, and now ‘engagement’ as false metrics of success. None of those mean a damn unless the content is generating enough revenue to sustain the operation.

A third smart article is Can publishers learn from failure or should we just set the bar lower? written by Kylie Davis, the chief of staff for the Sun-Herald in Sydney, as well as an undergraduate in the Australian Graduate School of Management masters of business administration program at the University of New South Wales.

There is a lot of talk about how newspaper companies are slow to embrace change, that we are laggards when it comes to adopting to new business opportunities and suffer as a result.

But new research from the Australian School of Business takes it one step further, claiming that organisations will often embrace failure and rationalise it into success as a coping mechanism that justifies their behaviour.

Is this what newspapers have been doing?

Ms. Davis has been looking at a study by her university’s Gavin M. Schwarz entitled, the Logic of Deliberate Structural Inertia or, as its the online summary titles it, “Organisational Failure: How Lousy Results Become Optimal Outcomes”. She says that “some businesses suffer from ‘deliberate structural inertia’ where organisations prefer not to change their tried-and-true methods.”

Newspaper companies are full of enthusiastic proponents of new technology — staff who are hungry to embrace the new digital world and work on strategies to bring the dollars in and delight our readers and advertisers and who can see it’s potential. But the word from the top is to “wait”.

The research says “people are limited in their capacity to process information. Consequently they adopt spontaneous strategies to simplify complex problems and this allows failure to be rationally defended.”

Too many newspaper companies have done this over the past 10 years, claiming that the changes in mobile phone and online readers were niches that would never take off enough to justify us altering what and how we deliver content. They’ve preferred to wait until nimbler competitors proved that there really was a market there — and by the time we’ve tried to enter, the horse has bolted.

Savvy stuff for anyone trying to understand the failure to adapt by post-industrial countries’ daily newspaper industries. Whenever I hear a newspaper editor says, ‘Because other media can provide news to people more immediately than we can in print, newspapers’ future will be as a provider of analysis about the news rather than the news itself,’ I see someone who is redefining failure as success. There is no reason why newspapers online cannot provide news as immediately to people as other media can. But not if the editor is going to resist changing his traditional practices.

Ms. Davis article is freely available at the International News Marketing Association’s website.

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