Looking for good news

Jeff Jarvis has started a good conversation with a post titled "Bad news, good news" at Buzzmachine. In response to a comment that "The problem with the Good News is that newspapers can’t translate an equal online readership into the same revenue as in print," I posted the note below, which cites the frequency-of-usage failure that I've mentioned on many previous occasions. Once again, I'm concerned that journalists just don't understand their role in creating or solving the underlying problem.

I have to differ with Dan Thornton. There is no equivalency in the online readership.

If there were, we might actually see equivalency in revenue.

The unique-user number is inflated BS calculated from counting cookies from a wandering global audience. It’s primarily useful for spreading fog at senior management meetings and issuing chest-beating and ultimately misleading press releases about how newspapers are extending their audience reach online.

It should never be compared to in-market commercially relevant print readership data.

The true number of in-market users who consume pages with enough frequency to be affected by an advertising campaign is distressingly low.

At the core, it’s not an advertising problem. Local businesses still need to reach potential local customers, and they’re willing (although certainly not eager) to pay for results.

It’s primarily a failure to attract and retain a commercially relevant audience that’s breaking the newspaper business model.

That points the arrow back at the people who create the content. The 20th century content model isn’t working any more, regardless of whether it’s in print or beamed directly into your cerebral cortex by a modified laser beam.

If I were looking for good news, I’d be looking at the transition that many companies are making from single-product strategy to a portfolio/aggregation strategy. I’d be looking at the newspapers that are beginning to figure out behavioral targeting in a network context. I’d be looking for new newsrooms that are beginning to really grasp the breadth of their roles outside the simple 24×7 breaking-news concept.

I’d be looking for great examples of facilitating and leading productive conversations. I’d be looking for great examples of online resources and local-life tools built around actual needs (as opposed to technologies or existing info resources).


I agree with Steve: 1. "Uniques" are uniquely inaccurate: http://www.brasstacksdesign.com/unique_visitors.htm 2. Most general online audiences are still too small to be effective for local advertisers. And that's one of the reasons online ads aren't working for advertisers and generating more revenue for newspapers.

This highlights why a two-pronged response is important:

1. Participate in networks to take advantage of the strengths of other sites. The Newspaper Consortium's deal with Yahoo enables local media to sell into a broader delivery system that includes newspapers, Yahoo, and other affiliates, all targetable geographically, demographically, and behaviorally.

2. Pursue a broader content strategy to strengthen your own sites. News alone -- even 24x7, even with video, even with comments and transparency and all that good Web stuff -- isn't going to do the trick. (News alone never accounted for the popularity of print at its peak, so I don't know why this is hard to see.) It's not very hard to discover poorly met local needs in the areas of information and social interaction, but you have to actually talk to real people and get out of the "that's not why I went into journalism" mindset.

Hi, and apologies for not responding sooner - I've celebrated the New Year by feeling increasingly unwell! To set the record straight a bit, I definitely did not claim that Unique User figures should be treated as an equivalent to print readership data, although I realise I should have made that clearer in my comment on Jeff's blog. And I'd agree that aggregation, behavioral targeting and productive conversations are definitely signs of effective transition. However, and with the greatest respect to my colleagues in research, I would say that the appropriate online measurements are a more effective tool for seeing how people really interact and respond to content than print readership data. Any online measurement is susceptible to an amount of inaccuracy due to people deleting cookies, using proxy servers, using different computers at work and at home, etc. But offline measurement is susceptible to assumptions based on delivery/sales, and the simple fact that most people will claim they act in a different way to what they actually do! Surveys, for example, are often as much as measurement of how people would like to act/be perceived as much as what they've actually done. The only real way to measure what a person does is to be able to monitor them without them being consciously aware of it - something that's happened in 'retail science', and something which can be done online with a reasonable amount of accuracy, but much less offline. Lastly, I'd agree that local business need, and will pay to reach local customers - however, I'd want to make sure that there was a caveat that this might not be traditional display advertising on, or offline - more businesses are discovering having their own website, blog, or alternative method can be productive, and although this really is still in the early stages, it's going to accelerate pretty quickly!

"2. Most general online audiences are still too small to be effective for local advertisers. And that's one of the reasons online ads aren't working for advertisers and generating more revenue for newspapers." Can you imagine how small it would be for local newspapers? Do you know I don't think I know one single person in my life who would log-on to their local rag. And those who might I am sure would spend no longer than a few minutes there. Christ, it's depressing.