Project Thunderdome Shuts Down – Mad Max and Post Apocalyptic Linotype

I was genuinely shocked to hear late last week that Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome was shutting down. Whether accepted or not by the network of papers it was serving, it was a bold project with a plan to save newspapers with a new model for news.

I was lucky enough to visit the Project Thunderdome office in New York just after they started, while on my CNA scholarship trip in 2012. Between the New York office and visiting the Journal Register properties in Connecticut, I was able to meet Jim Brady, Steve Buttry, Matt DeRienzo and even John Paton. Continue reading

Value Archived News

With all the talk about whether the content of newspapers is of a quality the public will be willing to pay for online, it took a search of our paper’s archives recently to remind me that … it is. It’s not necessarily the quality of the individual story (although that’s obviously there), but of the narrative – the archive – that presents an ongoing and valuable commodity.

A mistake of mainstream media has been to ignore and devalue that content.

So if there’s going to be a paywall, maybe it should be for archived content. Not just archived material that you can do a text search on, but a powerful database of related, interwoven “smart” content. At the moment that’s largely unavailable. Allow users to follow the background story, or stories, that give context to the current revision, whether that history is contained in text, image, audio or video content.

As such, it equally applies to any media, or content creator, but this particular post approaches it from the mindset of print.

I had reason to search NewsText, a database of newspaper archives, for the entire history of the Queensland Government’s lobbyist issue, where former government ministers were representing lobbying firms on development projects. During the search I saw clearly the linear progression and connectedness of these articles across months, even years, all presented chronologically. It’s there without tags or related story linking, just a regular text search. Where the authors were different, and in some cases even the publication, the full story still unfolded.

But that linear value is completely lost, both in the newspaper because it isn’t possible, and online when it isn’t utilised. In the newspaper it’s only possible to read each article as a standalone piece, without reference or even knowledge of the wealth of background to the story, or the ongoing work a publication or journalist has devoted to covering that story.

There is the capability to do it online but, in most cases, it’s not being done. People can currently pay for this archival content, with access to historical textual news searches through services like NewsText or Lexis Nexis, but the ability to do that should be provided online from the originating news source.

And why not monetise it?

It’s not like it’s a service offered now and, like academic articles, it could provide a story précis or the context in which the search terms are contained. Some kind of context would help the consumer decide if they want to pay for the entire article, or a sequence of related articles and/or other media content.

If it’s done it shouldn’t be prohibitive to pay for articles. Ease of access is the barrier to overcome, and anything over just a few cents per article would quickly become prohibitively expensive.

You only pay $1.69 AU ($0.99 US) for a song on iTunes, and the whole point of that purchase is to have a product you can use (listen to) again and again. Most people who purchase an article don’t intend to use it over and over again. It’s a one time, single use purchase – generally for reference only and a cheap price should reflect that.

It’s wrong that newspapers and other content creators didn’t start doing this much earlier, or adopt the best practices of somebody who has figured it out. It’s not just another “related articles” plugin, although it includes that, but a seriously robust system that makes the archive useful. Content on news media sites is archived online but, if it wasn’t for Google, it would be nigh on impossible to actually find it.

Everyone has failed at converting content to the web and leveraging the value of their archives. Not just mainstream media. Everybody.

The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media: My Advice to the Next Generation – Jay Rosen: Public Notebook

The newspaper business model will not be saved with the introduction of paywalls because it is a rejection of the newspaper business model. The current model, entirely based on advertising paying for news, is in the process of being left behind by those who would defend it. It is worrying that users will now be made to pay for news simply because marketing departments are unable to make online advertising work.

The central argument, that users need to pay for news to recoup costs, is an effective raising of the white flag. It’s an admission that, unlike at Google, the media industry is bereft of ideas about how to make online advertising profitable. This extends to the entire industry, all of whom are discussing the merits and timetables of a user-pays model. It just so happens that the News Ltd announcement has thrust that model back into the spotlight.

It reminds me of a rant from David Cross in the outtakes of Arrested Development: “If you can’t market that kind of show and get better ratings, then maybe the problem doesn’t lie here, maybe it lies with marketing”.

In The Australian’s Media and Marketing section on August 10, Mark Day said a paywall would allow newspapers to wrest back control of their business model. How? The way the music industry did, through the “grim enforcement of copyright, uniform action by the music companies and technological advances such as the iTunes micro-payment systems”. The music industry business model was all but destroyed by online, and rather than bludgeoning users to return to the good old days, they instead bow to the consumer who is willing to pay, but demands to control how, when, and what they pay for.

I disagree completely that “the [music] industry was able to wrest back control of its product”. The music industry was dragged kicking and screaming to its knees, finally relinquishing control to a micro-payment model after consumer outrage put a gun to their head and forced the issue. Introducing a user-pays model isn’t about wresting back control of the news product at all, and you could not pick a worse example of an industry to emulate than the music business.

As an aside, in the music industry consumers have always paid for the product. In the news industry, consumers have never paid for the product, advertising has. The cover price of a newspaper wouldn’t cover the cost of the ink on its pages.

Surprisingly there were a few things I agreed with Mark Day about (despite the column’s title, Bloggers may howl, but cash for content makes sense), like his examples of the three strands of news (happening, manufactured, investigated) and what kind of news people might be willing to pay for. It’s a valid argument, and one industry people are having everywhere, but I do wonder if it’s the sense of inevitibility that is now driving the debate. Now that the introduction of pay-per-view content seems inevitable, everyone is expending cognitive energy on the issue, speculating about how the paywall could work, or what content people are willing to pay for. This, instead of developing a model where advertising still pays for news.

Whether it was the classified “rivers of gold” or advertising on the page, the news industry has for some reason given up on that model working online. I find it inexplicable that nobody in the news industry, across the globe, can figure out how to make advertising work online. Google are just smarter, I guess.

No less than the president of media at Thomson Reuters, Chris Ahearn, recently penned a piece titled, Why I believe in the link economy

Blaming the new leaders or aggregators for disrupting the business of the old leaders, or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies – they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works.

From Mark Day’s Bloggers may howl, but cash for content makes sense

It is clear a free internet has the power to wreck the economic model of newspapers and news-gathering itself. But the irony is, if that were to happen, the most valuable elements of news — that which is investigated, tested and credible — would disappear because of a lack of funding. Ultimately, that serves no one. Society would be the loser.

We do a disservice to society by making that valuable and important news inaccessible, by telling society that, unless you pay, we will withhold the information that informs your understanding of the machinations of government and the economy.

Related reading:

I first started writing this post over a week ago. The biggest addition since then is the Associated Press plan for content charging online, assessed by Nieman Journalism Lab after they got hold an internal AP document labeled, “AP CONFIDENTIAL — NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION.”

UPDATE:
Last week I tweeted about an article that literally took the words out of my mouth in relation to this blog post.
Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing | SPLICETODAY.COM
The first point there illustrates this post:
1. Consumers don’t pay for news. They have never paid for news.

Twitter threatens legal action against third party developer

A third party Twitter developer in New York has discovered the hard way that Twitter may now be playing tough, threatening to aggressively “take whatever steps are necessary” to protect their rights.  Lawyers representing Twitter have demanded the developer deactivate his website, transfer the domain to Twitter and cease using the API or any reference to “Twitter”.

Yesterday mytwitterbutler.com owner and Twitter third party developer Dean Collins arrived home to find an email from lawyers claiming to represent Twitter,  demanding he cease operating his website and hand over the domain because of his “violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service (“TOS”) and spam rules, and your infringement of Twitter’s trademark rights”.

His website is designed to help users auto-follow people when certain keywords appear in their tweets. Many in the Twitter community frown on auto-following that generates masses of spam, but Collins is vehemently denying misuse, and said he’s using the Twitter API in accordance with the rules.

“Basically they were saying we want you to hand over the domain, stop using and selling your software, and never use the API ever again,” Collins said.
“I think twitter are forgetting how they got so popular in the first place. There are 3000 applications out there all using the Twitter API, all using the rules they gave us.”

In their letter of demand, the lawyers have suggested that use of the word “Twitter” in Mr Collins’ domain will confuse users into thinking his product is affiliated with Twitter.

Twitter is concerned, however, that your use of My Twitter Butler and the related domain may cause confusion in the marketplace by suggesting that you and your site are somehow affiliated with Twitter, or are endorsed, sponsored, or approved by Twitter, which would result in an infringement of Twitter’s valuable trademark rights.

In light of the above, we must demand that you immediately:

1. deactivate the MyTwitterButler.com website;

2. transfer the MyTwitterButler.com domain to Twitter;

3. comply with Twitter’s TOS and rules, which includes stopping your aggressive and automatic following and offering techniques and software for others to aggressively or automatically follow; and

4. stop all use of the My Twitter Butler name, the TWITTER mark, or any other name, logo, or domain name that includes TWITTER or any confusingly similar term.

Twitter’s success has been built on the back of thousands of third party developers who have taken the API beyond what its founders could have ever imagined, and some in the Twitter Dev community have questioned if this is the beginning of the end for open development using the Twitter API.

Mr Collins said he attended a Twitter-hosted event for developers six months ago, where about 200 developers listened to Twitter representatives give examples of how the API could be used.
“Auto-follow was the second example they gave,” he said.
“I’m just using their publicly defined API.”

Some will argue Mr Collins has been warned, as the case is not without recent precedent. At the beginning of July, TechCrunch reported that Twitter had been getting touchy about using the word “Tweet” in applications. While it seeemed to be cleared up that “tweet” was okay, “Twitter” is still supposed to be a no-go for applications.

In a blog post, Biz Stone later said they encouraged the use of the word Tweet, but:

“If we come across a confusing or damaging project, the recourse to act responsibly to protect both users and our brand is important. Regarding the use of the word Twitter in projects, we are a bit more wary although there are some exceptions here as well.”

A quick search by Collins found dozens of third party Twitter applications that used the word Twitter in their domain or application, and he wondered if he was just one of many to receive letters from Twitter’s lawyers yesterday.
“It will either turn out that I’m just one, or it’s a big deal and 30 to 40 are being taken down tomorrow.”

If Twitter succeeds in forcing mytwitterbutler.com owner Dean Collins to deactivate his website, transfer the domain to Twitter, and stop using any reference to Twitter, the future of other hugely successfull third party Twitter applications like twittercounter, twitterfall, twitterfeed and DestroyTwitter could also be in jeopardy.

Read the letter from Twitter’s lawyers in full at mytwitterbutler.com/I’m_Being_Sued/