Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

Archive for March, 2009

Huffington Post Announces Launch of Investigative Fund

On Monday, the Huffington Post announced the launch of The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. According to Ariana Huffington, the nonprofit Fund will produce a wide-range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers.

“We’ll start with a budget of $1.75 million — and continue to raise funds and expand the project as we move forward,” she said.

Fantastic! This is the kind of support journalists need. But I also wonder, how does $1.75 million compare to what major newspapers used to budget for investigative journalism? It seems like a pretty big number, but I honestly don’t know how to measure it. There was a time when some newspapers sponsored investigative units. They were the exception, however. Most often, investigative stories would just evolve…as beat reporters uncovered parts to a story that hadn’t been told. How does “investigative journalism” differ from writing a really interesting story, of national or local interest? Is the real story of the Huffington Post’s announcement simply that they’re supporting journalism, investigative or otherwise?


Looking for Alternatives to Paid Ads

There’s a pretty good back and forth going over a TechCrunch guest article that opined that most ad models will “fail” on the internet. The article, by Eric Clemens, a Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, takes aim at paid search in particular, because we “no longer need advertising to obtain the information” we want. Clemens says we can find what we want, when we want it, through more trusted sources than paid advertising. And most of us, he says, don’t even want to view advertising.

Clemens says that “conventional search,” such as a regular Google query, “misdirects” us to sites other than the ones for which we’re looking. “Monetization of misdirection frequently takes the form of charging companies for keywords and threatening to divert their customers to a competitor if they fail to pay adequately for keywords that the customer is likely to use in searches for the companies’ products; that is, misdirection works best when it is threatened rather than actually imposed, and when companies actually do pay the fees demanded for their keywords.”

I get it. Google is making money by providing search results for misspelled keywords and ambiguous searches. But misdirection? I don’t think so. How does Google know precisely what someone is looking for?

And I guess I wasn’t alone with these thoughts. “Search advertising is one of the most powerful forms of advertising precisely because it does not misdirect searchers, nor interrupt them but instead provides answers that they seek,” retorts Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan.

“If I do a search for ‘alaskan fishing trips,’ how is it that a search ad alongside the editorial listings misdirected me? What was that ‘exact’ thing I was supposed to get in the first place? Was it a government document? An Alaskan tourist office? One particular fishing company?

“In plain language, online advertising isn’t failing — the economy overall is failing.”

But that’s precisely the problem. Sites cannot survive on advertising alone. Which both Clemens and Sullivan recognize:

“The net will find monetization models and these will be different from the advertising models used by mass media,” says Clemens. Agrees Sullivan: “Charging for content gets trotted out as a solution. Well duh. People have been charging for content online for ages, and successfully so. Personal sidenote, don’t go banking on micro-payments to be the magic solution. But many sites, in my view, backed away from charging for content because the online ad revenues cranked up. Now newspapers that opened pages up to anyone to increase ad views are having to reconsider that much access. The balance will be found.”

Exactly. That’s why I think a monetizing model like “Kachingle” will eventually be among those working alongside advertising. Kachingle hasn’t launched yet, but when it does, it promises to offer readers a sustainable, easy-to-use way for supporting content sites. Stay tuned for more information.

Tools For Saving Journalism

"Tipjars" were one option used by Mother Jones Magazine for to encourage contributions from readers.

I attended a conference over the weekend at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism titled “Tools for Saving Journalism.” There were about 125 of us in all, and I gotta say, it felt a little like attending a wake. It seemed to a person, everyone was worried, and even fearful, what lay next for journalists.

For instance, Alex Cohen, the host of NPR’s daily news program “Day to Day,” and who moderated a session called “Active Innovators,” began by saying she’ll know soon what it’s like to be unemployed: This coming Friday will be the last for Day to Day, a victim of budget cuts at NPR. Later in the day, we heard how the union representing journalists and others at Hearst Corporation’s San Francisco Chronicle voted to allow the company to cut more than 150 jobs, in a desperation attempt to save the paper. Ouch!

Yet like at any funeral, there was plenty of hope for the future. David Cohn, of Spot.us explained how the public can now “commission” journalists to do investigations on important and perhaps overlooked stories. Monika Bauerlein from Mother Jones Magazine talked about their use of a “tip jar” so readers can show their appreciation for an article they read. Andy Bowers from Slate and a former NPR reporter, talked about the podcasts that slate has created with NPR.

Also speaking was Cynthia Typaldos, the CEO of the start-up “Kachingle,” which is an online monetizing solution for content sites. I’m now consulting for Kachingle and will write more about them in a future post.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Why journalists should get over their fears about becoming business people: “When you’ve knocked on the door of a parent whose kid has been shot and killed, making cold calls should be easy.”

“Journalism is the first line in history.”

The three biggest stories missed by journalists in the last 40 years: The truth behind the Vietnam War, the false government “evidence” of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq; the economic meltdown.

“It’s a lot cheaper to pay for a good newspaper than a bad war.”

How Building a User Interface Can Put the “User” First

I heard a talk last night by Glen Lipka of Marketo, a start-up whose software automatically organizes marketing tasks like lead gen, email, lead nurturing, and combines well with Salesforce. Glen is Marketo’s Director of User Experience and Product Management. What impressed me wasn’t his product — he really didn’t talk about it — but what he said about creating stronger user interfaces.

For instance, he mentioned that he follows the “Halloween Principle” in everything he designs. Imagine it’s October 31, you’re at your home computer, and the doorbell rings. After giving candy to kids, you come back to your computer — now where was I? A good user interface helps you remember, for we’re always being interrupted, be it because we’re going in and out of meetings, we’re IMing, or just generally multitasking in general.

He said he always tries to think like the user, knowing that most of us don’t always like to follow one path. He cited the example of how many ways there are to print a document, from Command P to finding “Print” in the pull-down menu to right-clicking on a mouse. Too many engineers like to find the preferred way only. A good product manager tries to anticipate the many ways one might want to go, and build it into the specs from the beginning.

I particularly liked two examples of managing upward. He mentioned Avinash Kaushik’s reference to the “HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion,” or “HIPPO.” While Avinash’s post is beautifully written, Glen summed it up by saying that it comes down to figuring out what’s important to the HIPPO and driving your responses so they make the right decisions. Bring the voice of the customer to your arguments to help shape the HIPPO’s opinion. But don’t ever fall in love with your own work, as the HIPPO has the final say.

The other example I liked is that users don’t rely on sales people the way they once did. Glen cited Microsoft’s visionary, Ray Ozzie, who says customers now surf to “research, try and buy,” and often never interact with a sales person. To Glen, that means the user experience better be right.

Finally, and this is something I’ve always incorporated in my own business experience, Glen reminded everyone to “have a sense of humor.” Humor can deflect a lot of heat. In all, a good talk.

Thinking about newspapers and journalists

I find myself thinking a lot about newspapers these days, and journalists in particular. I got my start as a journalist, albeit as a radio journalist. In college, I worked at UC Berkeley’s radio station KALX, then got hired by Tony Russamanno assisting with the morning news at KMEL. Eventually, after business school at Stanford, I made my way to one of the largest newspaper publishers in the country, Knight-Ridder, where I worked on the business side of the company and did everything except write articles. But I continued to consider myself a journalist, even after I moved on to run the operations of graphic design magazine called Communication Arts.

So it’s with a lot of sadness when I read about the demise of the Rocky Mountain News. As a kid in Kansas City, my dad would sometimes take me to a downtown newsstand and there I’d thumb through the out-of-town newspapers. My favorites were the tabloid-style papers like the Rocky Mountain News. I never could figure out why other papers didn’t follow their format — it was so easy to hold, for a kid or an adult. Headlines seemed to fit so much neater, too.

There’s also talk about the Hearst company’s San Francisco Chronicle losing money and being up for sale. Advertising revenue is down. Circulation has plummeted. Are there any newspapers making money these days?