Newspapers will flourish while they flounder in 2010

1889_Western_Union_Main_Operating_Room_NYC_Scribners_OM.JPGA prediction about the newspaper industry:

All those papers which serve merely as vehicles of intelligence will be destroyed

Lest you think that is a prediction for the new decade, it was from James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, writing in 1845 about the advent of the telegraph. (via Neil McIntosh)

Bennett also said of the telegraph and newspapers:

In regard to the newspaper press, it will experience to a degree, that
must in a vast number of cases be fatal, the effects of the new mode of
circulating intelligence.

It turned out that the telegraph was a boon to the newspaper industry. Granted, predictions are tricky business; even divining current trends is a haphazard affair

About the same time Wells Fargo analyst John Janedis was upgrading his outlook for newspaper stocks based on a forecast of lower declines in ad spending, Alan D. Mutter at the Newosaur blog was noting that 142 newspapers were folded for the last time in 2009.

That said, here are some predictions for the newspaper industry for 2010:

I think 2010 will bring a wave of consolidation in the newspaper industry. Cities that have more than one major newspaper at the start of the year will only have one at the end as the economy recovers and newspaper advertising doesn’t. Clearly, this trend is already underway – Seattle, Cincinnati, and Denver have already lost their second paper – but I think more publications across the country will tire of the uphill struggle and capitulate. At least for now, however, I don’t think a major American city will be newspaper-less: even though they are burdened by high debt loads, high costs, and high profit expectations, newspapers are still able to attract a large (if relatively smaller) audience. Even if it means raising the price and further slimming the product, newspapers will survive in print…for now.

Lee Shaker, Research Fellow at Princeton University.

Hyperlocal advertising will heat up, delivering another nail in the traditional newspaper industry’s coffin. (Very similar to one of my 2008 predictions, but this time focused on the advertising aspects.) Specifically, it will be more common for a local establishment to pay marketing dollars to Yelp or FourSquare, for example, then their local newspaper.

— Sean Ammirati, COO, ReadWriteWeb.

The Dow will rise by 8% (from its Dec. 31 close), but newspaper stocks will sink as revenue fails to rebound quarter after quarter.

— Martin Langeveld, News after Newspapers.

Boing Boing says Murdoch’s threat to block searches and shroud his sites with paywalls is nothing more than a bluff. Think again. This isn’t a doddering old coot who doesn’t get the Web. Murdoch is a savvy businessman who just might lead an industry back into the reality-based community. With billions in cash on hand, he can afford short-term losses as his properties experiment with strategies that do not involve the essential untenability of giving the product away. And once he proves that a news publication can poke Google in the eye and survive, others will follow suit. After all, if they don’t, Murdoch may be the only one left standing.

Newsweek.

It seems only a matter of months before The New York Times starts charging for its online content. For years, readers of the WSJ.com have paid for the newspaper’s biggest business scoops. Bloomberg News expanded in this dire economy, thanks to its subscription model, and even regional papers such as The Miami Herald are experimenting with new ways to make money. (Their latest innovation? Adding a tagline to Web stories to ask readers to donate.) Ugh, as if begging qualifies as innovation.

Newsweek.

A “major” newspaper will fail to make it to 2011

We’ve been talking for years about the impending death of the newspaper, in favor of Internet-based news channels.  I think back to our experience with the local paper earlier this year.  We subscribed purely for the reason of getting coupons.  We subscribed to the weekend package (so Friday – Sunday).  Total cost was about $10 a month.  The problem?  We only netted about $5-6 worth of coupons per month.  After 2 months, we canceled the subscription.  Ad revenues are already in the toilet for newspapers, and will only continue to decline.  Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, Mr. Newspaper Man.

In Other Words blog.

Urban metro papers continue to shrink. More papers stop publishing in print on some days of the week; others go to Sunday-only for print and online/mobile for the rest of week; and a few go entirely digital. Unfortunately, we see some more newspapers die.

— Steve Outing, last Editor and Publisher column.

Stop looking for an ad “rebound” because the meta-trend is working against you. “The amount spent on traditional advertising may be in perpetual decline,” says Borrell Associates. As some of the more evolved media companies already know (and the rest will find out soon) the money is going to a broad and highly fragmented array of marketing, from social networks to search engines, custom promotions and rebates. Follow the marketing money, not the ad pages.

Steve Smith, MinOnline.

Local newspaper advertising has been rapidly declining as local marketers are looking for a greater ability to target their messages and audiences. Online newspaper advertising, however, has been expanding.
Prediction: Online advertising for local newspapers will halt its expansion and go flat, or even see a slight decline. The year 2010 will be a turning point for news delivered via the web and mobile devices, which are areas in which newspapers typically do not excel. The exception to this prediction: publications — both print and online — that serve rural areas or are focused on hyper-local news.

— Steve Vaughan, Ballihoo.

(The original “Inter-Tubes?” The photo at top shows the main Operating Room of the Western Union in New York, from Scribner’s Magazine, July 1889.  The image shows the pneumatic tube system for transmitting messages to and from city stations and the 600 operators in the room. Photo from the Early Office Museum)

Now for your predictions …

Why Examiner.com’s traffic is growing through the roof

Examiner.comMuch to my chagrin, I’ve been noticing Examiner.com versions of stories we’re covering show up prominently in Google search results while our original journalism on knoxnews or govolsxtra is buried.

It happening a lot and not just to the sites I manage.

Examiner.com, a collection of sites that Time magazine cattily describes as “neither advancing the story nor bringing any insight,” is the fastest growing news domain with Nielsen reporting a stratospheric 228 percent  increase in audience in November while the big mainstream news sites like CNN.com and MSNBC.com had double-digit declines.

A poster on the Google News forum said: “This is not a reputable form of news. Any half-brained twit can write for them (and do). It’s more like social networking as it is full of opinions and skimpy on facts”

But Google’s famously secret algorithms keep tilling fresh Examiner.com stories to the top of search results. How does that happen?

Time answers the question like this:

So why does Examiner.com’s fairly superficial posts on the big stories of the day often end up near the front of Google News’ queue? “It’s not a trick,” says (CEO Rick) Blair. “We have almost 25,000 writers posting 3,000 original articles per day.” Examiners take seminars on writing headlines, writing in the third person and making full use of social media, all of which are Google manna. But Blair thinks it’s mostly the scale of the operation that makes Examiner.com articles so attractive to search engines, from which more than half of the site’s traffic comes. That is, by stocking the lake with so many fish every day, Examiner.com increases the chances that Google trawlers will haul one of theirs up.

Whatever the journalism value, the Examiner is honing a formula of SEO friendly headlines and body copy, Social Media links, sheer article volume and technology approaches that ought to make news sites envious and more than a little embarrassed they haven’t done the job as well with their original journalism.

Oh yeah, some are more worried about Google “stealing” their content while the Examiner just grows and grows. We better start worrying about somebody wooing the audience.

(You can click the image for a larger view of the screen shot.)

Forget the “Curly Theory” and you’ll get pie in your face, knucklehead

Three Stooges

Here is how Eric Ward defines his “Curly Theory” of link building:

No matter how narrow the vertical, somebody somewhere cares about it, writes about it, links to it, and you’d darn sure better recognize and respect those editorial passions before you go asking for a link to something that may look like a match, but isn’t.

(Photo from here and click through if you’ve ever wondered about the use of the Three Stooges for teaching statistics)

Internet pundit finds being open with FCC trying

In prepared testimony, University of Tennessee law professor and blogger Glenn Reynolds argues that an open Internet has allowed for the creation of new journalism models that harken to the pamphleteers of the Founding Fathers’ age.

 Reynolds’ remarks were prepared for testimony he gave Tuesday to an FCC panel gathering opinions on its Open Internet proposals. He describes journalism as an “activity” rather than a “profession’ or, as many journalists refer to it, a craft.

 While saying an open Internet allowed people like himself to have their voice heard, he cautions against heavy-handed governmental overnight aimed at ensuring an open Internet.

The popular Instapudit blogger wrote:

The ability to publish inexpensively, and to reach potentially millions of people in seconds, has made it possible for people who would never be able to — or even want to — be hired by the institutional press to nonetheless publish and influence the world, much like eighteenth century pampleteers.

“The Internet has also made all sorts of new journalistic models available. Independent
journalists like Michael Yon (michaelyon-online.com) and Michael Totten (michaeltotten.com) have provided compelling firsthand reporting from places like Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, supported entirely by reader donationsAt a time when “mainstream” publications are closing foreign bureaus and slashing reporting budgets, this is a new model for reporting that rewards painstaking reporting and excellent writing, producing results that are, in these two cases, comparable to the very highest level work from traditional professionals.”

At the same time, Reynolds did not favor the government stepping in:

“That the power to control communication leads, more or less inevitably, to the tendency to control communication in ways that advantage one’s own political faction seems to me indisputable: It is, after all, the reason for the First Amendment. One reason why content distribution over the Internet has done so well has been, to put it bluntly, that the government has had nothing to do with it. Though the formulation above sounds neutral and simple enough, a cynic might conclude — and, in my experience, the “cynics” in such matters are almost always right — that over time “neutrality” is likely to be redefined in ways that turn out to be something less than neutral.”

He draws a sharp distinction between the existence or the need for an open (lowercase) Internet and the need for a public policy Open (uppercase) Internet.

You can read his prepared testimony and his trying experience in testifying to the commission via the Internet on his blog. The FCC might do well to consider using openly and inexpensive tools to gather its testimony. They seem to work!