Washington Post Tries User Generated Content

The Washington Potwp_logo_300st has announced a competition to find a new pundit.   “Beginning on or about Oct. 30, ten prospective pundits will get to compete for the title of America’s Next Great Pundit.” To make it to the final ten you have to submit a brief, topical, opinion essay.  In a world where traditional media is struggling, this presumably has several benefits:

1.  They get at least ten more readers (at least for a while)

2.  They get some free content from all those who submit an entry

3.  They get a very cheap columnist (the winner will get paid $200 per column for 13 weeks plus $2600).

Now they cant be doing this because they are short of editorial talent, or people that want be on their staff; and I doubt they are really doing this to drive a bargain with existing columnists.  So they are presumably doing this to get some interest in the publication.  Is this going to be like American Idol where we see the really terrible entries as well as the really good ones?  I hope not.  I have to say, that on one level I think it’s great that they are doing this.  It will give some exposure to some great talent.  On another level I’m a little disappointed that a publication like this has to do these things to get readers.

Traditional media is getting more important as fewer people read it

Traditional media is shrinking.  This shrinkage isn’t yet to a point where it will die any time soon but as we all know the media is becoming an ever smaller universe.  Online readership is doing far better than print but still the overall trend is towards a smaller media landscape.  So does that mean as PR people we should care proportionally less about the media?  It could be argued that we should, since people are spending their time doing other things than reading the news or watching TV.  I’d argue the opposite however.  I believe that even though fewer people are subscribing to newspapers or watching the daily news on TV, that traditional media has not lost its position of power when it comes to influencing consumer behavior.  While the number of people that may read an original article may be falling, the potential influence of that article is potentially greater.  Only 20 years ago the idea of seeing a news article and forwarding it to 100 people was at best a time consuming and expensive exercise.  Today, anyone with Internet access can do it.  In other words, 20 years ago, a news article was as powerful as the people who happened to read it that day (give or take a few people that found it later in their library).  Today an article is as good as the number of people that read it and then forward it PLUS the number of people who then find it later when doing a search on Google, PLUS the number of people who find it because someone blogged about it, PLUS the number of people that found it because it was tweeted about, PLUS… you get the picture.  I’d therefore argue that even if traditional media circulation is dropping, it’s importance is not.  Just as there is a computing law that says the power of a network is proportional to the number of computers attached to that network, I’d argue that the power of the media is connected to the number of people linked to the media.  Traditionally that link may have been a subscription.  Today it’s a hyperlink.

New York Times Ad Sales Plummet

Ad revenue for the NYT dropped an amazing 31.7% in the last quarter. This tells me two things:
1. Confidence in advertising is at an all time low. If people believed in advertising then even in these relatively depressed times, ad sales at the NYT should hold up relatively well. They haven’t, so they mustn’t.
2. People are turning to other platforms for advertising and to other forms of marketing. From what I’ve seen, few marketing budgets are being cut by over 30%. Indeed a 10% cut seems about normal year on year. So where are the dollars going? Given the NYT results are meant to include their web properties, it would suggest that the dollars must be going to other properties and other forms of marketing.
Last week I also noted a study that said only 3.5% of major news stories started life in the blogosphere. Indeed the coverage of the story (in the NYT) suggested that the blogosphere had been over hyped. My read was that I was actually impressed that from a standing start blogs had made this much impact on news. It suggested to me that within five years, we could easily see that metric rise to 10% and from there to a sizable minority.
Connecting these two news items may not be obvious but to me it demonstrates the pace of change in the media industry away from traditional news outlets. This endorses the view of many of us in PR that we must a) be investing in digital communications and b) we should be helping our clients understand the shift that is taking place.

We live in really interesting times

There are times when there seems little of great importance going on in the world. Right now there is more news than is possible to digest:

1. Stock markets in turmoil as they struggle to figure out if there will be a recession in the US and other parts of the world.
2. A stimulus package for the US economy
3. The biggest US interest rate cut in 25 years
4. Super Tuesday is looming and Obama and Clinton are fighting (again – Iowa Nice seems so long ago)
5. The Palestinians have found that unlike the Israelis the Egyptians will accept people simply demolishing the border between them so they can come and buy much needed supplies
6. The Italian PM resigns (that seems to happen every few years though)
7. A rogue futures trader allegedly costs French bank Societe Generale $7.14 billion

Against this amount of news it would seem almost impossible for any company to get on the front pages or be a lead story. Tough times for PR people…

Online news consumption is all about sports…

I hadn’t looked at this in a while but Akamai has been tracking how many people access online news for some time now. It paints an interesting picture of online news consumption. For example the vast majority of the news hits are US driven. So much so that other regions don’t really impact the end results. Sadly the vast majority of news this nation consumes seems to be sports related. Indeed out of the top ten news days they’ve recorded seven were sports related (the world cup being a huge factor it seems). The other three? Two were related to terrorism and the other to Katrina.

If you look a little closer you’ll see that of the roughly 3m news hits today, 2.6m were in the US, 300K were in Europe and the remaining 100K were spread around the rest of the world. That seems amazing to me and perhaps explains why concerns about the death of print media don’t seem to be taken as seriously outside the US. At first glance I wondered if the consumption outside the US were abnormally low today but the Akamai system actually shows whether this a high, normal or low news day and while it is a moderately high day in the US it is at worst normal in all the other regions.

I guess the end could really be in sight for print media at this rate. As long, that is, as they make sure they offer good sports news!

Link: http://www.akamai.com/en/html/industry/nui/news/index.html

Economist discusses death in the family

I need to thank Drew B for pointing to the Economist article on the death of newspapers. As ever the Economist does a good job of educating its readers on the big issues. I’d like to see this piece followed up on though as it really only serves as an introduction to the topic. Nevertheless it’s worth a quick read.


Only in England

Let me first say I’m British and proud of the fact. However, there are things only the British can do and today I discovered a truly wonderful Britishism. In the UK there is a government institution called Companies House. Well the web site says:

The main functions of Companies House are to:
1. Incorporate and dissolve limited companies
2. Examine and store company information delivered under the Companies Act and related legislation
3. make this information available to the public.

For anyone wanting to find out about a UK business it is wonderful resource. Through the Companies House web site you can buy copies of people’s filings such as their latest set of accounts. Anyway, this is where the Britishism comes in. This wonderful example of ecommerce in action is only available from 7am to Midnight UK time. Presumably the security guard switches off the computer when he leaves.