Friday, August 29, 2014

The Guardian helps local news

I was interviewed yesterday by the French media publication INAGlobal about the future of regional newspapers. It is a well known fact that they are in deep trouble. Their very successful formula that offered to a large readership a bundle of national news, extensive local news, info service, classified ads and commercial advertising doesn't function anymore. It appears that people want just to satisfy very personal needs. They get what they want through Google, the social networks and various applications easy to consult on their smartphones.

And yet, local life is a breeding ground for a lot of very interesting information. When a big event happens in Ferguson, Missouri, the national medias are at pains to collect the proper pieces of news that will help their audience to understand what is happening. So, in the US, the Guardian has decided to build up  a working relationship with several local dailies to improve this understanding.

It seems however that this sharing of information is more profitable to a popular national website such as Guardian USA than to more modest local publications. And there is no money exchange while the financing of local news collection gets more and more uneasy with the collapse of classified and the limited success of paywalls.

As I said to my friend of INAGlobal, solutions are hard to find. Maybe the national media will have to contribute much more to the working of local networks.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The New York Times still a model?

The results of the N Y Times for the second quarter were a cold shower on the hopes of the US media community. In his blog for Nieman Lab, Ken Doctor wonders whether the continuing decline of print ads, 4% less and the slowing increase of digital subscribers, 32000, mean that the Grey Lady is not succeeding its challenge.

If it were so, it would be a very bad signal for the European and American newspapers which have been following very closely the NYT strategy.

The big question is whether it will be possible one day to finance a large and efficient newsroom with a mostly digital income. To day, we get conflicting signals. On the positive side, it seems that more and more people get used to paywalls and digital subscriptions. On the negative side, there is a mssive transfer of the readership from computers to mobile devices, mainly smartphones where ads and easy reading are not easy to get. And also, there is in both Europe and the US a sharp fall of print advertising while big digital supports like Google or Facebook  dominate more and more the market. Presently, Google absorbs 30% of digital advertising in the world and print media cannot compete.

Now, advertising makes hardly 35% of the NYT income. 10 years ago, it was twice as much. Same thing with European newspapers. The safe financing of good information remains in doubt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Does big money saves the press?

Patrick Drahi, the franco-israelian tycoon has decided to invest 20 millions euros in the ailing French daily Libération. For the newspaper newsroom it meant a narrow escape from a coming death. Libération is saved, at least for a while.

Does it mean that Drahi is a good willing benefactor, eager to save the voice of a center left opinion maker? Things look a bit different when watched more closely. The businessman, when he bought SFR, the second French telecom operator, was accused by several socialist politicians and notably, Arnaud Montebourg, of not beeing fully atuned to French interests. It was widely observed that he doesn't live in France but in Switzerland where he enjoys a privileged fiscal statute. Instead of transfering his fiscal home to Paris as suggested by Montebourg, he prefered to fill his civic duties by helping progovernment Libération. A good political investment, very cheap if compared to the huge SFR bill.

What is striking is that, in France, there are no huge media groups, the size of Springer or Schibsted. However, there are a lot of wealthy businessmen who have bought into newspapers, hoping probably to gain some influence in the tiny parisian establishment. They don't look for a broad international strategy, there is no Murdoch or Dopfner or Ringier among them. They are happy with their small property, on the margins of their main activities.

Should we blame Serge Dassault for buying le Figaro, Bernard Arnaud for les Echos, Xavier Niel for le Monde and Nouvel Observateur? Shall we blame Vincent Bolloré if he intends, one day, to enter the print world? No, in their own ways, they save newspapers in trouble. And yet, one wish they were more ambitious, and a bit younger.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Digital local news. Is there a hope?

I have often mentioned in this blog, the difficult challenge of local news trying to find some room in the new digital world.

On Gigaom website, Matew Ingram evokes the thankless task of the pioneers who have tried and failed to develop hyperlocal websites. A former journalist from the Washington Post, Jim Brady, is starting a new project, set in Philadelphia and supported by a community of local bloggers able to inform about what is happening in their close surroundings.

Several other projects are launched in various parts of the US, all of them based on the contribution of bloggers who want to provide useful informations on their small community. It is worth noting that all large industrial projects of networks of local news sites have failed dismally.

It gives food for thought for the large regional newspapers that dominate the French scene. They were highly profitable when print advertising was triumphant and brought safe incomes. Now, this resource is fading away and their organization, heavy and costly fails to match the dwindling revenues from ads and sales. It seems that for local and hyperlocal information, small only is beautiful. The next ten years will bring a revolution to the European and American regional press.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

The digital local news

It is very obvious that the offer of local news has badly suffered from the digital revolution.It seems now that websites dealing with national or international news can live and even prosper as is the case of  Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Vox or, in France, Mediapart. the same is not true of local information. Regional newspapers, in the US, France or the UK have not found yet the magic potion that will push a signifant number of internauts to subscribe. Pure players have not been successfull either. Most of them had to stop for lack of financing.

There are many reasons for this sad situation: the local news are costly to collect and advertisers and internauts are not eager to pay. The audience is limited and free information is generously provided by local government and specialized sites dealing with entertainment, food or sports. It seems that people are just happy when they get the alerts and the very specific informations that are useful for their everyday life.

Is there a solution ?   My opinion is that pure players are much easier to manage than digital sites connected too closely to print newspapers. Also, a digital offer must include connections to a wide variety of very specialized sites covering all the activities of the nearby city and propose help to any newcomer.All ideas are welcome and each site must find its own economy with the support of the network. However, an isolated local news website has no future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Politico arrives in Europe

The growth of Politico media group  is one of the most interesting processes on the western media scene. Its stunning success is due to the quality of its journalists who were issued from the best US dailies and its combination of website, confidential newsletters and a free sheet delivered in the centre of Washington.  Last year, Politico opened a branch in New York. Now, it intends to start a new website in Brussels to deal with the activities and the lobbies of the European Union.

Considering the experience of Politico people with the politics and the lobbies of Washington, it looks like a great idea to move to the capital of Europe, in spite of the local competition.

If you look at the website, you are impressed with the quality of the magazine that covers more and more international affairs. Six years ago, Politico was devoted to the intricate politics of inside Washington. Now, it is more and more involved in world news and its coverage makes it a useful tool for European readers.

Several conclusions can be drawn from this experience. First, in the digital world, quality pays. The best journalists provide the best stuff which people are willing to buy. Then a print newspaper is not very good at launching new innovative digital products. Politico would not have grown the way it did if it had been a branch of the Washington Post. Last but not least, is it possible to start such a digital powerhouse in Europe? I would say yes but it takes the initiative of good news professionals and business savvy managers. They exist in France, Germany or the UK. They should start  right now.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Who owns the French media?

Last week the media and entertainment group, the Swiss Ringier presented its results and its policy to a French public of journalists and media executives. It was amazing to watch the ambitious strategy of a group which has spread in eastern Europe, Viet Nam and Africa and is building up a powerful digital branch.

A few weeks ago Schibsted, the Norwegian media group delivered its own accounts. There again the owner of the very successful in France is moving out of Scandinavia, in South America, Spain, France and is a world pioneer in digital ads.

So two small countries, Switzerland and Norwy have produced two world champions of  the media in the new digital age. Normally, France with its 65 millions people and a long tradition of success in the publishing industries, should be a European leader. Unfortunately, it is not the case. Lagardere group is selling all its assets in the media and will probably vanish from the scene within the next ten years. Some wealthy businessmen have bought into the media without any long term strategy. Bouygues's TF1 has never gone far into an  international diversification. Bernard Arnaud and Serge Dassault are happy with les Echos and le Figaro. Xavier Niel seems interested by the growth of group Le Monde and could keep buying into Radio and Internet but he is far from reaching a decisive European position.

The only hope of a French breakthrough in the media and digital world lies with Vivendi, the successful owner of Canal Plus. However, the future of Canal is  unclear and nobody knows what Vincent Bolloré, the new boss of Vivendi intends to do, a sharp contrast with the clear cut vision of Ringier and Schibsted.

As for now, the two dominant groups in France are German. Bertelsmann manages M6, RTL and Prisma media, Springer has bought the most successful French websites, Aufeminin and Seloger.

What could be done? We shall discuss that point in a later blog.