San Diego joins the ‘soft parade’ revolution

Is San Diego the latest market to join the “soft parade” revolution?

A new venture called San Diego News Network recently launched in the California city. On first blush, the site seems to reflect hyperlocal sites that have been started … and for some, failed … in other markets.

With a staff of about 25, SDNN’s approach is to utilize a combination of local news sites, citizen journalists and bloggers to provide the basis of news and information for local residents, as well as maintaining “a conversation with San Diego” through online forums.

So what makes SDNN different? It’s a unique partnership with local media outlets, from television stations to niche publications, that share ad revenue from the site, according to Interim Executive Editor Barbara Bry.

“They understand that by banding together we all win — particularly San Diegans who will have a terrific news and information resource. In exchange for a share of SDNN ad revenues, the media partners provide us with free advertising,” Bry said in an e-mail.

In addition to this partnership, SDNN also has an agreement with AP provide national and world news.

Bry would not go into specifics on the revenue sharing – nor would she discuss specific one- and five-year revenue goals – but did note that SDNN did sell out its total advertising spots for its launch.

CEO Neil Senturia adds the SDNN revenue model is different from traditional news sites.

“SDNN is structured with a much lower operational costs in terms of delivery of services and staffing with an unmatched capability to provide more personalized, hyper local news and information for readers where they live, work and play,” Senturia recently said to Chief Marketer. “Additionally, SDNN will have greater opportunities for advertisers to target specific local audiences based on demographic and psychographic information with pinpoint accuracy than other media outlets.”

Senturia calls it a local version of what Google does on a national and international level.

Senturia and Bry — a one-time reporter for the L.A. Times and Sacramento Bee — don’t hide the fact that SDNN is out to compete directly with the Union-Tribune’s SignOnSanDiego site.

“Our goal is to become the dominant homepage for San Diegans looking for news, information and meaningful conversation on a wide range of topics pertaining to the areas where they live, work and play,” Senturia said in a press release.

So, yes, San Diego will be another community to watch this year. Given its unique partnership with a host of local media, SDNN is getting it right in my mantra “do what you do best, and link to the rest.”

And if its Google-lite approach to generating revenue is successful, SDNN could be a model for other media sites, particularly those in competitive markets.

Here’s lookin’ at you, San Diego!

Death watch, continued…

It’s been a tough week for the newspaper industry. More staff cuts, salary cuts, furloughs, and announcements for more newspaper closings throughout the country have cast anew a shadow on those in the business.

According to the Paper Cuts blog, there are more than 6,600 positions eliminated since the first of the year. That a lot of journalists looking for work, and I’m sure there are many more who are still employed looking to get out as well.

But as we in the industry lick our wounds, we should also be thinking about those who are looking for work. Most have families and mortgages. All have financial commitments they must meet. But they are all our friends and colleagues.

I mention the Poynter Institute’s Jill Geisler’s “10 reasons to hire a journalist” essay last week. While that was directed more towards future employers, we can also offer a hand to help our friends find new work.

We are journalists. Part of our work involves meeting people outside our immediate sphere of influence. We talk to civic leaders. We talk to businessmen, We talk to people who have the power to hire. If we’ve done our job well, we’ve developed professional relationships with these people.

Use that network to help someone find a new job. Ask around for who’s hiring. Ask if they know anyone who’s hiring. If you find a link, refer an out-of-work colleague to them.

If every one of us who is still employed found one person a new job, that would easily bring down that 6,000+ figure. But most of all, it’ll reaffirm to those who left the business that journalism is just a career — it’s a brethren who continue to look out for each other.

*An interesting piece on how large, process driven companies can be taught to be innovative. The example cited in this essay is Proctor & Gamble, but does your news org fit the “process driven” mold? And is the culture ready for innovation?

I can hear your heads shaking from here.

Why a journalist would be a great addition to your business

The Poynter Institute’s Jill Geisler recently wrote a heartfelt and impassioned plea to employers out there, giving them 10 reasons to hire a journalist.

I can’t add to Geisler’s excellent list, only to say: How many employees do you have who have had to deal with stench of death while doing their job? Or have had to talk to grieving family members? Or have had to think on their feet to find ways to circumvent roadblocks to attain information? Or spend hours poring over mountains of mundane documents to find the nugget that links something thought to be unlinkable?

These life experiences are what make journalists an excellent employee in just about any field. They’ve dealt with the underside of life — the best, and the worst of people.

They’ll certainly be able to handle whatever your organization can dish out.

* WOOT! My blog item on newspapers going digital was quoted in this week’s Pew Research Center’s blog trends report. Read it here (although you’ll need to read down a bit!)

The new ‘soft parade’ revolution

Is the “soft parade” revolution finally starting in the newspaper industry?

Consider the following:

* New York Newsday announces it will create a pay-for-content system for its Web site, charging online readers for “packages” of news and features.

* The Seattle Post-Intelligencer prints its last edition this week. Instead, it will continue to cover Seattle online, in a product that will provide free content based on blogging, reader submissions and links to other sources.

* Staffers of the shuttered Rocky Mountain News gain financial backing and announce they will start an online venture IF they can get 50,000 Denver-area readers to subscribe for $4.99 a month.

Three new business models have emerged in the past month (two rising from the ashes of the failure of the previous one). Three petri dishes brewing in major markets.

We in the industry be watching these sites closely to see just how much they are accepted by their respective communities, as well as if they will deliver enough revenue to keep them afloat. We’ll also see if the executives on these sites give their plans enough time to catch on, as well as how well they market it.

But, if any one of these tests become successful, you can be sure there will be a mad rush to copy that revenue model throughout the country.

It’s sad that these test sites are finally launched as the result of a crisis. But when you think about it, that seems to be when journalists are at their best.

A footnote: NewWest blogger Jonathon Weber offers up his simple revenue model that he says works for him.

From the ashes of one, will another arise?

Great journalism will never die. Great journalists won’t let it.

Case in point: weeks after the demise of the Rocky Mountain News, a group of RMN staffers have gone on their own to keep the spirit of the Rocky alive. They are creating an online news source called InDenverTimes.com (The RMN name is still tied up in corporate limbo). With an introduction video (below) and highlights on the newly-created website, these folks are planning to reprise their coverage of the Denver area through a subscription-based model. A press conference is planned for later today, and I will update with info as it’s released.

Although I have concerns that the subscription plan will not be enough to keep the venture afloat, I admire the tenacity and dedication to Denver they are showing here. Moreover, I really admire their dedication to the craft of great journalism.

There is a lot more of this spirit in newsrooms across America. Wouldn’t it be great if their leaders recognized this and allowed it to flourish?

UPDATE, TUESDAY, MARCH 17: According to a Monday press conference, the RMN staffers starting up the InDenverTimes.com site have some financial backing from three Denver businessmen. One says he was the one of the reasons for the demise of the Rocky — he cancelled his subscription years ago because he was getting the Rocky’s news online.

But, he’s offering the challenge to Denver to try to get 50,000 online subscribers by April 23 — which would have been the 150th anniversary for the Rocky. If they achieve that goal, InDenverTimes.com will go live.

This is an exciting movement. Much has been said about the loyalty Denver readers had to the Rocky. Will they have the same loyalty to its soul in a reincarnated form?

We can only hope so.

Death watch in Seattle


AP has an interesting story about Seattle facing the possibility of losing both its major daily newspapers. Read it here.

The Post-Intelligencer is considering going from print to online only, while the fate of the Seattle Times is uncertain. And although the P-I would retain an online presence, it would do so at a mere fraction of the labor it used to run the print operations. While noble in idea, the cutbacks may be a bit extreme to make the online P-I a viable voice for the community.

Losing a print edition to digital is not necessarily a bad thing. A community losing its voice, however, is.

UPDATE: TUESDAY, MARCH 17: Hearst made it official Monday. The P-I’s last edition is March 18. Afterwords, the P-I will be an online-only product.

While the move on face value isn’t as tragic as it may seem, there is a lot of worry just how the onlune P-I will continue to be the voice it was in print form. Only about 20 or so editorial employees are being retained for the new online venture. While they are focusing on the new mantra “Do what you do best, and link to the rest,” can 20 employees be enough to effectively cover a major metropolitan area?

We’ll see once the new seattlepi.com is unveiled.

I blog, therefore I’m authoritative? Not!

Interesting piece from Techcrunch asking is social media like Twitter is causing blogs to lose their authority.

My question is: Do blogs REALLY have any authority to begin with?

Yes, I blog. And I like to think what I write about carries some weight with someone out there. But fact of the matter is that blogs have hit such a saturation point that readers can no longer differentiate between what is credible and what is purely BS.

In other words, blogs have become the CB radio of the new millennium. Everybody does one, but only a few do it right, or do it well.

In order to be authoritative, you must have your readers’ trust. In order to gain that, you must have credibility. Without credibility, you have nothing.

There are many good, credible bloggers out there whose voices are being lost in the maddening crowd of pulpit bangers who feel freedom of speech means saying what you want without thinking, without evidence, without research.

This is why mainstream media has a large following in the online world. CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC all have brands that have been established, and readers migrate to those sites online because they trust the brands.

Bloggers can become authoritative, but it won’t happen until there is a thinning of the herd, which should allow the good ones who persevere through the mess to gain more credibility and readership.

Until then, it’s a stretch to consider blogging as “authoritative.”

A tale of two directions in news


With apologies to Dickens, it is the worst of times, it is the best of times for newspapers.

In the worst of times, here is a list of 10 newspapers that experts predict could close or go all digital by the end of the year. It’s a formidable list with some great journalistic institutions on it: The Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer. All are great newspapers serving major metropolitan regions, and it would be a shame to hear the bell toll for them just as it did for the Rocky Mountain News just last month.

Many of these nameplates are the smaller paper in two-paper markets. Many argue that the loss of these newspapers would silence a voice that spoke in difference to the other paper in the market. That may have held true in the press baron days, but with virtually all major newspapers owned by corporate interests, that is no longer the case. Even the Chicago Tribune broke it’s hard-lined Republican stand last year. So what we may be witnessing is more of a corporate Darwinism in these big markets.

But what’s important to note is that while the passing of a nameplate like the Rocky is tragic, is it just as tragic if these nameplates were to lose the print product and go all-digital?

Certainly not! It is not a death, but a metamorphosis. As long as the journalistic integrity and quality of content remains, these new all-digital news sites will not only survive, but hold a much better chance of building new audiences and, following traditional revenue theory, advertisers who believe more eyes on the site will translate into more traffic. Plus you don’t have the overhead costs of the presses, ink, paper, trucks, etc.

I hope all 10 follow the all-digital route. Yes, it will be sad if a newspaper ceases to print, but its voice will live on in newer, more dynamic fashions. And as readers, we will follow.

The best of times: Here’s a interesting piece of online experiments that could help newspaper companies realize some cash. I’ve been most impressed with the work being done at the Bakersfield Californian since the days of their Northwest Voice community journalism project. The Baktopia project mentioned in the article aims at getting and developing new readers. By building the brand and links, it’ll be interesting to see if Bakersfield can keep these readers as they mature and look for new news and information products (much in the way automakers used to try to build loyalty by offering entry-level, mid-priced and luxury models to fit the needs of people as they enter new phases of their lives.)

The irony in this article is that many of the innovative experiments are being done by smaller, independent papers. Unfortunately, the bigger papers — including some of the 10 on the above list — seem too busy waiting for someone else to find the magic potion that will make them profitable again.

And that’s why I see small, local newspapers as the ones with the greatest chance for survival through this evolution.

* Nice to see Jerry Roberts at the Santa Barbara Independent News saying what a bunch of us have been saying for years:

1. The focus is news, not paper
2. Own the local news, own the market

Now if only news execs would start LISTENING!

The small shall inherit?

This TV news item caught my eye not because it’s a great piece of journalism, but it highlights an issue that the newspaper crisis isn’t only affecting the major metro markets. The thousands of small community newspapers are suffering as well. Many of them are suffering without the types of resources that a Tribune Co., E.W. Scripps or MediaNews may still have.

But what really impressed me was the spirit of the Williamson Daily News’ publisher, who despite a 50% decrease in circulation over the decade continues to stress that his organization provides the news that can’t be found through Google, the New York Times or CNN. (Keep in mind that a 50% circulation loss for Williamson would be a minor blip for the NY Times or USA Today)

And he’s right. If anyone has a chance to survive the crisis, it’s the community newspapers. Although advertising is affected by economic terms, the papers in these small communities will likely not be affected by Craigslist (though they should prepare for battle in the likelihood Craigslist or another service launches an uberlocal product) or other revenue zappers that have hit the metros hard.

The town hall meetings and high school football games are still important to the readers in these markets, and as long as the newspapers can provide this sort of information, they will survive.

This doesn’t mean that community newspaper publishers can just sit back and weather out the storm. They still need to focus on developing new products to meet the changing reading habits of the audience. This means developign out their websites as well as alternative delivery methods. After all, there is still the threat of indpendent community journalism sites setting up in their turf.

But local is the future for news organizations, especially newspapers. You can see that now as the once “regional” papers like the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News refocus themselves to the cities they are based in.

In the new world, the news organization that captures the local market on all delivery platforms will rule.

More reasons the Rocky’s path was too rocky

A follow-up to Friday’s piece on the Rocky Mountain News. Blog reader Jay made two very interesting points about the RMN’s final edition video:

1. Most of the people talking in the video are over 40 – It is clear that newspapers are only relevant to an older generation.

2. I spend many hours of my life in the daily news meetings that I saw again on this video. What struck me is that only 1 person in that room brought a laptop to the meeting. The rest of the group was still clinging onto paper budgets..that were probably hours out of date. News is now in real time and to survive some honored journalism rituals need to be questioned and changed.

I have personal experience with Jay’s second comment. When I first moved to online, I brought a laptop to all news budget meetings as well, mainly to take notes and check online competitors for instant feedback. I was still fighting the “web scooping print” mindset at the time and the other editors saw the “real-time” news updates as a toy rather than a strategic planning tool. One top level editor even continually chastised me for spending too much time “surfing the web” during these meetings. There seemed to be little concern that a story they would talk about for publication later in the day was already on the Web site of their main competitors.

I hear not much has changed since those days, except they talk more about the web site now and a few more editors have become attuned to the news in “real-time” concept.

And, like Jay, I did notice there were way too few young people lamenting the fact that “My Rocky” won’t be around for them. Again, it’s a visual note that the RMN was not reaching the readers it needed to grab to stay afloat, let alone thrive.

Too many newsrooms still talk the talk, and very few walk the walk. I don’t know if this was the case at RMN, but it seems that way too many newsrooms are still in denial over the fact that readership has shifted away from print.

The flagship newspaper served its purpose during its time, but those days are over. It’s time to modify, retire or replace those flagships.