Weekend Media Threads May 18, 2019

A new venture for me, profitable media businesses in 2019, Rotten Tomatoes for … news?

Last week was an interesting one for me; On Monday I accepted the role of vice president of digital operations with Connecticut Public. I’m still pinching myself to be sure it’s not a dream. Just to even be considered for the role was an honor. But to now be part of the team is humbling. Connecticut Public is an outstanding organization that, above all, is mission-driven is remarkable. And I can’t wait to get started!

Profitable (Modern) Media Businesses?

I’ve been listening to a great series of podcasts from Digiday. In the four part series, they interview executives from bootstrapped media companies and discuss how they run a sustainable and **gasp** profitable media business.

In 2019.

Crazy, right?

This week’s episode is with Mobile Nations’ co-founder and COO Kevin Michaluk. What struck me most, not just in this episode but throughout the series, is how focused the executives are on their product and business plan. They are more concerned with what they are doing rather than what a hundred competitors might be doing.

As a result, each organization has perfected the ability to avoid the pitfalls of short-terms wins at the cost of audience or company culture. Instead they place long-term bets that sustain culture, and grow audience and revenue. Even when the rest of the industry is sprinting towards the next great savior, these executives stay true to their business plan, and all have come out on top.

Rotten Tomatoes for News? Sure?

As reported on TechCrunch, a new startup, Credder, has created a Rotten Tomatoes style rating system and website for news outlets. The site is currently locked, you need an invitation to get in, which is included in the TechCrunch article. Everything seems simple enough, and is straight-forward, but I’m going to take a wait-and-see attitude.

Anyone familiar with Rotten Tomatoes and the on-goings of pop culture knows what happens when a determined group decides they don’t like the current iteration of something. The property gets review-bombed. Tanking the score, which has a lasting effect in the world of entertainment.

Just read this story from TechCrunch about the review-bombing that took place prior to Captain Marvel even being released in theaters. And what was Rotten Tomatoes big fix? Don’t let users comment before a movie is actually in theaters. Which doesn’t actually fix the problem, it just pushes it down the road.

I get what the creators of Credder are trying to do, and it’s something that is needed. But is now the right time to give this kind of governance given the current political climate?

The TechCrunch article warns that the site could gain traction, attracting trolls that review-bomb institutions such as the New York Times. Which we all know will happen. However, I would argue that it would be worse if the site doesn’t gain broad traction, but instead attracts an engaged niche audience of trolls with no counter-audience to correct the curve.

If that happens, then reputable media sites could get negative scores while trash sites get average or positive scores with no counterbalance.

Suddenly those that want their bias confirmed have a site doing just that.

Weekend Roundup

Here is a round up of interesting stories from the week

Media Threads May 11(ish), 2019

It’s been an interesting few weeks for me personally – not in a bad way – so I haven’t had time to put together fully flushed out versions of my blog. However, I still wanted to share a few stories I found interesting from the week.

First up is a podcast from Digiday with Morning Brew‘s co-founder and COO Austin Rief. Morning Brew is a digital startup email newsletter (that’s a lot of buzzwords) focusing on business. More importantly, it’s a digital startup that is not reliant on venture funding, something that was a rarity not long ago, but now that funding is drying up should become the norm.

What struck me is the amazing focus the company seems to have:

“The biggest upside is focus. Not getting distracted by say, Facebook video. We couldn’t even think about it. The downside could have been choosing the wrong lane. We could have gone with Facebook video. We chose email. But even within the area of focus, we haven’t been able to scale as quickly as we wanted to. The problem with focus is we’ve not been able to test new things. Just now as we’ve gotten bigger and started generating more revenue can we start thinking about a three-year strategy, a five-year plan or hiring more senior people in sales or other parts of the business.”

You can listen to the full podcast here.

Another piece from Digiday is on Google’s plans to curtail third-party tracking and what it could mean for publishers. The move, which was confirmed during Google’s I/O event, is good from a user perspective. I for one can’t wait for my dashboard.

The move is not at all surprising. Google continues to lag behind in privacy when compared to other companies in the browser game such as Apple and Mozilla. Although Google has a reason to move slow given it’s core business is online advertising which is largely driven by third-party data.

CNBC has a deeper dive into the announcement from earlier this week here.

Finally, I found this piece from Harvard Business Review thought-provoking. In the column, titled Why Every Company Needs to Think Like an Entertainment Company, the authors argue that businesses should move making things and providing services to one defined by entertainment and stimulation in order to capture and retain audiences.

Doing so won’t be easy, but according the the authors argue businesses need to:

  • Have the best material
  • Get people talking
  • Know your audience
  • Mind your language

It’s hard to argue with any of these points, all of which apply to publishers, but I would put them in a different order. The best publishers

  1. Know their audience well enough to
  2. Know their audience’s language
  3. In order to create the best material
  4. Which gets people talking

Am I oversimplifying this? Yes, absolutely. But nothing on that list is anything most publishers do well, let alone in concert with one another.

You can read the full post here.

Media Threads May 4, 2019

It’s been kind of a weird week, I haven’t made the time I normally do to put together my weekly blog on the media. My brain is too scattered to put the threads together. Instead of a fully-cook post, I thought I would post some of the more interesting stories I found this week.

I’ll do better next week.

Although many publishers have steered clear of a full pivot to video, Conde Nast says its video is the ‘New Prime Time’ TV, and is now pitching itself as a video-first company.

I was surprised when I saw Yahoo popping up as a partner for news publishers again. This time offering Verizon’s 5G Lab resources. They are working with publishers on new formats called “extended reality,” or XR, which can include AR, AV, and VR.

While new formats and abbreviations are cool, I’m partial to something that can benefit more than just the top-tier publishers. That’s why I’m exited to see Washington Post’s Arc Publishing platform continue to grow. It’s now over $100 million in sales.

After I posted last week I realized that I did not include anything on Facebook – I won’t make that mistake two weeks in a row! Here you go, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder, has launched a podcast titled ‘Tech and Society with Mark Zuckerberg.’ Don’t worry I’m sure you can trust whatever he says.

Eastern State Penitentiary

I recently visited Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia with my family. Although we didn’t see any ghosts, and can’t find any that we captured in our photos, I want to share some of the photos we took while we were there.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but thinking back on it, the visit was a sobering experience. Just knowing that I was walking on ground where God knows what horrors occurred, and now I’m touring it with my family. It gave me chills to think about.

We were there for just two hours, more than enough time to see the bulk of the site, but not enough to listen to all of the exhibits. However, Eastern State Penitentiary is a model still in use today around the world, and in a lot of ways was the start of the industrial prison complex in the United States (a point that is reinforced in many of the exhibits present), and I was left numb by the end of the two hours.

The exhibit that hit me the most is the feature on Prisons Today. The rate at which we incarcerate people in the United States when compared to every other county in the world is staggering. Take 12 minutes and watch the video below on how we got here.

To learn more about the site, and the current exhibits, visit the website
easternstate.org.

Media Threads April 27, 2019

Did Buffett really say newspapers are ‘toast,’ or was he parroting an interviewer? Does that even matter if we haven’t innovated the process?

Last week I mentioned Ken Doctor’s post from his Newsonomics blog regarding the newspaper industry and how it’s looking as though it will try and merge its way out of trouble. In it Ken gets into the details, and speculates, on possible mergers and what they could mean for the industry.

The discussion is mainly around Gannett, Digital First, Tribune, and GateHouse, which got me to thinking about where this leaves chains like Lee Enterprises and BH Media? Lee and BH Media reached an agreement in June of 2018 for Lee to run the business operations for BH Media. Since that time not much has come from either camp. At least nothing I’m aware of.

This week, in an interview with Yahoo Finance, Berkshire Hathaway’s (owner of BH Media) Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett said that the newspaper industry is “toast.” At least that’s the headline you see.

What the article above fails to mention, as well as any story that I’ve read on it, is that while Buffett said “toast,” he was actually repeating what the interviewer suggested.

The conversation went like this:

Buffett: The world has changed, hugely. And it did it gradually. It went from monopoly to franchise to competitive to …

Interviewer: Toast.

Buffett: Toast.

Interviewer: Yeah.

I’m not trying to say that Buffett has a rosy outlook for newspapers, he does say that newspapers, other than the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, will disappear. But to write a headline that Buffett says newspapers are ‘toast’ is a little disingenuous – but it did get me to click on it so …

You can watch a video of his comments here.

Regardless of what he said, I’m largely disappointed in what BH Media has brought to the table since it began acquiring newspapers. I had hoped with the backing of Berkshire Hathaway that the chain would do something innovative to try and transform smaller newspapers to compete in the modern media landscape. But, from my perspective, it looks like they just continued to be legacy newspapers. There is nothing wrong with that, but when you hear that Buffett is moving into your industry, you expect more.

And I don’t disagree that newspapers – as we know them – are going to disappear. Except for a few, I think they will. Unfortunately that’s part of progress.

However, the desire of audiences to continue to get local news is not going away, it’s only growing. I think newspapers with strong leadership will continue to evolve into something that has the journalistic integrity of a newspaper, but the culture of a digital startup with diverse profit centers.

Innovate the process

I read a great article written by Jennifer Brandel with Hearken that I put out on my various social media feeds this week. It’s an interesting take on what newsrooms need to do in order to remain relevant. Brandel argues

But we haven’t changed our process: the way that we make decisions is as old as the printing press. We still gather a small group of people (finite inputs) in a closed room to make decisions on what the rest of the public deserves to know. And we make the product in isolation, and present it to the public once we’re finished and move on to the next product. No feedback or improvement along the way …


… So what then? Instead of using tech to fuel a news strategy about more, faster, everywhere, we need news to be about better, more relevant, where and when we want it. And it must be more representative of the narratives of those not in power.


https://medium.com/we-are-hearken/newsrooms-are-focused-on-innovating-the-distribution-of-news-the-process-not-so-much-802d7b5d8e77

If you’re in the business of creating content I suggest you take some time and read the article. Compare this to how you’re doing things and see if there is a better way. Spoiler: There is.

Is more better?

I had a conversation with someone this week on the merits of member-supported media versus that of commercial media. The basic point being that in commercial media there is a belief that more is better while member-supported media believes that better is better.

While I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, given the evidence I understand the sentiment and agree 100%. But the conversation got me thinking, which is the tread that ties today’s post together.

What can I do to innovate the process of creating and distributing better content in order to bridge the past to the future?

It starts with having the right leadership, which starts at the top. Look at BH Media. Buffett loves newspapers. He was a paperboy and still gets multiple print editions delivered to his home. There is nothing wrong with that, but he seems to like the idea of a newspaper more than he does innovating an industry.

He’s a great leader. Just not the one the industry is looking for.

Once you have the right leadership, you have to begin to understand the needs and wants of your audience. Which includes the fact that these needs and wants will change with technology and generations.

Once you understand your audience, you can rebuild your legacy systems and processes in order to address your audience. Too often systems are built around internal processes with no thought given to the audience. Then we wonder why audience adoption lags?

Once you have the leadership and audience-focused systems for your processes, start to listen and engage with your audience. Journalists can no longer just scream from the mountaintop, hoping someone will listen.

If we start to do these things, creating better content and distributing it quickly will come easy.