Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The day Maureen Dowd wrote f--- news and a revered political commentator didn't get the joke

Amid all the debate about what is true and what is f--- news, I am reminded of a remarkable journalistic moment that showed how hard it is to know when someone is kidding or serious. And how you can be sincere but spread false information.

Dowd (Fred R. Conrad photo, New York Times)
It was early in 2009, the first months of the Obama presidency, and Maureen Dowd, the sly and witty New York Times columnist, put tongue in cheek to describe how she had gained exclusive access to classified testimony of a supposedly secret meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In the scene created by Dowd, Democrats on the committee, led by Dianne Feinstein, are grilling former Vice President Dick Cheney about the torture methods he and President George W. Bush approved to interrogate terrorism suspects.

Dowd dropped hints all through the column that it was a put-on. The first clue should have been that a columnist was playing the uncharacteristic role of an investigative reporter writing about leaked information.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How quality content can win in the long run

Digital advertising is broken for many publications.
Back in the days when my job was persuading advertisers to spend money with our business publication, I would talk about the importance of a client's ad appearing next to credible, high-quality content. Editorial environment matters, was the argument.

Google, Facebook, and Yahoo pretty much destroyed that business model. They promised advertisers to deliver their ads to specific demographic groups with little waste -- for example, female executives in Baltimore who have searched for information about luxury automobiles in the past year. And their prices were much lower. 

But the importance of high-quality, credible content has just resurfaced in a big way. Some major advertisers in England pulled their ads from Google and YouTube because their ads were placed next to content of extremist organizations promoting hate speech.

Among those pulling ads were French advertising giant Havas, the BBC, the UK government, and The Guardian newspaper. The Times of London first broke the story (paywall). 

What this means is that digital publications can compete with Google, Facebook, YouTube and the rest by relying on a relationship of trust and confidence rather than scale -- totals of eyeballs. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Winning digital strategy: Think first of the community you serve, not the audience you sell to

You already know the story well -- how the business model for traditional media collapsed in the U.S. (Pew: State of the News Media 2016).

And how digital advertising's market share surpassed print and will overtake television this year.

And how media organizations have responded by cutting staff and weakening their products in order to keep profit margins high -- newspapers eliminated 20,000 jobs in 20 years, a 39% decline in employment.

All of this has been done to serve advertisers and investors at the expense of the most important people in the media equation -- the public, the readers, the users. But now publishers are rediscovering the importance of focusing on serving readers.

Readers, viewers rule

Now that digital media have broken up that arranged marriage of advertising and news content, publishers are realizing once again that their business is a public service and that the most important people in the equation are not the investors and the advertisers but the public.