Monday, December 1, 2014

local news on the Web

I have mentioned many times the hard fact that local news are not a web favorite. Their readership is sparse, their sponsors are few or depend too much on local government. However, the fate of democracy in Europe or in the US is highly dependant on a comprehensive coverage of local politics and economic challenges.

In France, no regional newspaper, whether it is Ouest France, Sud Ouest or Voix du Nord has been able to launch a credible alternative to the print. It raises a big question: are legacy media better placed to innovate on the Web? They still raise enough money through the print to finance a big newsroom and a network of local correspondants but it won't last. Advertising is running away and will never come back. Permanent losses are the future.

So what about a pure player? It is possible, as long as it covers a huge territory, lets say South East or Britanny. In that case it should have a small team of journalists working on long papers dealing with the major dossiers of the region and a powerful network of corresponadnats able to cover every part of the zone.

What about the public? It should be a population of motivated internauts, willing to pay a monthly subscription, provided that they are permanently informed on what is happening in the neighbourhood. Forget the daily publication of a bundle of news. It is not what they look for. They use more and more smartphones, very good for breaking news, not so easy for long papers which are less urgent and can be read once a week on a tablet or a computer.

Does this population exist? I believe so but it requires fast and valuable news. There is plenty of it in every city. You just need to look for it and deliver it immediately. Then people will agree to pay. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The future of legacy media

It appears that year 2014 is a year of new assessments, a cross road where the legacy and new media followed new paths that will remain the same for years to come.

Two major processes became obvious these last few months.
First, the triumph of news websites which after many unsuccessful attempts seem to find the proper recipes to drag audiences et finance their efforts, as long as they deal with national and international pieces of information. However, their shape is very different from the usual print press. They collect data spread all other the place, they rely heavily, too heavily maybe, on Google and social networks such as Facebook which is slowly turning into a new and very powerful media. they mix up more and more text and video, blurring the lines between traditional media, press, radio and TV.

Then, the legacy media keep drowning, losing for ever advertising income and their readership. The success of their Web services is uneven. Some seem to make it like the NY Times, le Monde or le Figaro. Others, dailies or magazines are trailing behind and, anyway, none of them is able to finance properly a strong investigation team. If and when they vanish, what will replace them?

The big question, I will treat next time in this blog is the future of information. What do people want? What are they willing to pay? What level of information is necessary in a democratic society? Keep tuned. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is the New York Times model working?

The 3rd quarter results of the NY Times are mixed. Print advertising keeps going down, by 5.3% so is the print circulation. The new digital applications are not very successful and the Gray lady has dropped its Opinion app. which did not attract enough subscribers. So the diversification of the great daily digital services is disappointing to say the least.
However, subscriptions to the digital edition keep growing to 875000 customers And digital advertising is up by16.5%. The current loss is due mainly to the cost of buying out 100 journalists from the newsroom.

The conclusion is that the global trend of the digital policy of the NYT is fairly successful. More and more people read the digital edition and pay for it between 15 and 20 dollars a month. Advertisers are also coming and financing a growing part of the very large and expensive newsroom.

And yet, there are two limits to this growth. First, the fact that people rely more and more on new circuits, unforeseen 5 years ago: the social networks and specially Facebook which works more and more like a media and then the  internaut uses more and more the smartphone, notably the enlarged one which means a different access to the news and to the ads.

All that means that the NYT like the Guardian or the FT must think very hard about a non so distant future. 5 years are a very long time in the digital age.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The digital challenge of the regional newspapers

French regional newspapers are in bad shape. The figures are well known: a regular fall of circulation, at about 2% per year. A faster decrease of classified and advertising at a rate of 8% per year. The result is the obligation to raise the price of the newspapers which is punishing for the subscribers that make a huge majority of the readership.

It is hard to see the future of Nice Matin. The once prosperous daily of the French Riviera loses 12 millions euros a year and its circulation is in free fall. It is obvious that the proposal of the employees who wish to buy their newspaper is not realistic. Their financing is not properly fixed and they intend to keep working the printing unit which is losing a lot of money. Rossel proposal is more to the point but it is painful: It intends to reduce drastically the staff and close the printing unit. However, even if Rossel prevails it remains to be seen whether Nice Matin can survive more than a few years.

The digital challenge is not easy to face either. Regional dailies are desperately looking for devices with a very limited success. Ouest France and Sud Ouest are trying an evening edition, mostly devoted to national and world news. For the moment, it doesn't work. Subscribers are scarce as they can get for free the news offered by these dailies. There are so many websites in French or in English that provide that kind of information. Look at Huffington Post, Slate and the websites of the free sheets.

However, the big question is the financing of the very costly collection of local news. In the US, the local newspapers have been trying for years to build up paywalls and attract local advertisers. By now the figures are very disappointing. Local pure players are not successful either. For the moment, at least, the public is not willing to pay.

And yet, people want to know what's happening in their city, the place where they live. There is a solution but it has not been found yet.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Guardian goes European

The Guardian has great ambitions and important financial means thanks to the sale of its classified ads website.

Its main objective is to become a global world media. It has developed a strong position in the English speaking community. It has launched a digital edition for the US and for Australia. Now it is working on a new initiative, the launch of an European edition on the Web.  Now most executives of the main European countries speak English and could be potential readers of a good digital publication staffed with high level journalists hired from Germany, France, Italy or Poland and doing in depth investigations.

Still the competition is tough. The International New York Times and the Financial Times offer a comprehensive coverage of European news. However, the main threat comes from the new European edition of Politico, based in Brussels and supported by Springer.

For national media from Germany, France or Italy, it is also a challenge. It is obvious that the language barrier doesn't work any more. Only quality counts which costs money but he Guardian and Politico have deep pockets.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Politico, Guardian, new adventures

It is comforting to see some legacy media and new media trying new experiments and moving easily in the digital world of to day.

The Guardian is starting what it calls long form journalism i.e. long articles treating in depth current affairs and easy to read on paper and on the Web. With a print circulation sinking slowly and a Web audience spreading in the English speaking world, notably in the US and Australia, it tries to offer a global service. and the Guardian, like Vox and many American pure players has realized that this service includes long papers that can be read easily on computers and tablets. Quality carries with it audience and readers willing to pay. A good tip in France for a daily like le Monde.

Politico, which I have been following for many months is becoming more and more a global media, far away from its starting point inside Washington beltway. Its magazine covers more and more international affairs and uses long form too. Now the player moves to New York and Brussels and can afford to grow thanks to the 950 millions dollars collected by its mother company Allbritton, when it sold its local TV network. It is an unforeseen competitor to the Guardian and the NY Times but it is a very healthy outcome. Digital world and quality news can thrive together.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bezos man takes over at the Washington Post

When Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post on August 2013, I told some of my friends that when he would get fed up with the ailing newspaper, he would sell it to Politico.

It was not just a joke. I think that the choice of Frederick J. Ryan to replace Katharine Weymouth as the new publisher of the Post goes a long way in this direction.

Lets see the facts. Politico was created 8 years ago by a group of talented journalists coming mostly from the Times and the Post to cover on the web the political life of Washington. The Post and the Graham family refused to get involved in this adventure. Politico was launched instead by Allbritton, the only media group based in Washington.

Since then, both Politico and Allbritton have thrived. Politico has broken even and developed new activities in New York, international affairs and intends to set a new branch in Brussels. Its mother company has made headlines last year by selling its huge television properties in order to finance new developments on Web services. F. Ryan has been one of the founders of Politico and he was in charge of the television branch. After its sale he has been recuperated by Bezos to go where? At the Washington Post.

I would not be surprised if Bezos was in touch with Allbritton for a global deal, a merger of the Washington Post and Politico. it would be a smart move as the future of the print seems very dark and Politico looks more and more like an Internet Post. And Ryan is the right man to organize this merger.

Is it far fetched? Maybe but it would be a good gamble for the owner of Amazon.