New Model Journalism


WHEN the history of the change between the 20th/21st C is written (say sometime at the dawn of the 22nd C), it might be realised that the difference between the two was akin to that between analogue and digital.

Journalism and newspapers have been developing and reinventing themselves for centuries, so the changes which are sweeping through the industry today should come as no surprise to all concerned.

In the late 70s/80s, the change from so called ‘hot metal’ presses to the beginnings of the new desktop publishing/computer controlled presses was dramatic. Who can forget the year long strike at the Sunday Times in the late 70s over such?

Today, the print industry is having to come to terms with how to make viable a business model based on the internet in terms of content and delivery. This has been well documented across all media.

The paywall system has some adherents – the notion that readers can view a certain number of stories for free before having to pay to read on; other web news sites have opted for a free system which relies on people subscribing regularly to a publication.

Sites can then use such data to prove to advertisers that the hits really are worth their buck.

In the 20th C, the general circulation figures were the indicator of how well a publication might be doing – and thus how attractive it might be to advertisers.

Today, thanks to the wonder of online analytics, not only can newspaper owners see the number of hits which are being achieved, they can also analyse which stories are being read the most; which ads are being clicked on and also a general demographic of the location and age group of people who are reading the new news sites.

Analytics allows you to view a web page, see which story is popular, and even then see how a whole newspage – including adverts – are being analysed/read by online readers.

Some have mused that with such technology, news web owners could theoretically introduce a payments by results (or clicks) service for journalists in a similar way that some teachers have bemoaned the league tables stats.

Many news sites, especially micro sites in the regions, use auto placed content recognition ads. (Google Ads say) but also place their own bespoke ads.

(One such Google Ad which regularly appears on news sites globally is one which says: The End of Britain; regular news web readers might have seen such).

Google Ads should be familiar to most people by now, but perhaps not, to many, the versatility of such.

Google Ad Sense is a service offered by Google which tailors ads to the content of a particular site. Thus if you are the owner of a news site which specialises in boating, say, there is a good chance that the ads at the side of the page (which are auto placed by Google using a special algorithm) will reflect your boaty content and auto place adverts for boating miscellany etc.

But where do these ads come from?

The other side to the Google Ad coin is Google Ad Words which allows marketeers and business owners to create their own ad campaigns.

By tailoring their own .jpeg type ad image (the square or ‘leaderboard’ style ads are popular), they can then use that ad to target a plethora of web sites across the globe, regionally, or in a distinct area.

If you own a chandlery business, you can set your budget using Google’s online tools; select the age demographic which you wish to target (and a number of other options), put in a series of ‘keywords’ – sailing, motorboats etc, and then select the regions you wish to ‘blitz’ with your tailored ad.

The ghosts in the machine then take the info specification you have set, and again using unknown algorithms, match the content of sites to your ad.  And hey presto, your ad appears on a boating website in the general region you targeted and meeting the audience demographic you desire.

If you are the owner of the web site in question, you get paid every time someone clicks on one of the Google Ads your site is displaying.

If you are an advertiser, via the method just described, your specific budget (which you have already set earlier) clicks down every time someone clicks on one of your (chandlery ads, say) somewhere in the world.

The ads link to your own corporate web site, so you are gaining exposure every time someone ‘clicks through’ from the (chandlery) web.

Bespoke ads work in a similar way only newspapers place tailored jpegs/images which are supplied direct to the media, which are then ‘manually’ pasted through coding into the news web site,  a little like the traditional display ads of old  - and which don’t rely on content recognition system such as Google’s (and others).

And hence the crux of the matter for the new online newspapers.

While you might own or set up a newspaper which garners 100,000 page clicks per day – the Daily Mail online globally gets millions of hits per day – the key indicator for the new web media owners is how many ‘click throughs’ to ads are being achieved; conversions of hits to ad clicks effectively.

This is called the CTR or the Click Through Rate. Techno sites are awash with TLAs or Three Letter Abbreviations as they are known.

It might be fine getting thousands of hits to your flashy newspaper, but if those clicks are not being converted, from a business point of view, such news sites are simple flag-wavers.

One of the problems with the Google Ads model is that it only allows a certain number of such ads to be placed per page (to date).  Web site owners can get round this by placing bespoke ads between such, and by using large banner images at the head.

Many newspapers don’t even use the Google Ads model but opt for the splash style ads – some of which fill the whole of the page;  others which zoom in across the major editorial content; there is a plethora of ways being devised to keep advertisers happy but without ‘spoiling’ the readership enjoyment of surfers.

One major Indian newspaper briefly obscures the whole page with a giant rolling ad before rolling it back again.

It’s interesting how many news sites, and major corporations have switched on to the use of VERY large banner images at the head of the sites.  VLAs as they are known no doubt.

In terms of delivery, whereas print was either bought over the counter or delivered through the letter box, the mobile, Ipad and laptop are the new conduits of the new media.

While deadlines still exist, the days of the dedicated evening edition and morning papers will over time almost certainly vanish, if they have not effectively gone already.

Just as BBC News 24 updates by the minute, web papers delivered via the new media tablets et al are using the same process.

One major problem remains theoretically with the problem of the ubiquitous of the news and thus advertising.

News organisation of all shapes and sizes rely on dedicated media outlets for their sources, aside from multitudinous stories from the general public.

PR departments, in-house departments, news agencies, global or boutique pr agencies and many others provide this dedicated role.

With some many people now having mobile phones, and with SO many media outlets now existing – both from the pr transmission end to the distribution end via the new news webs – a true media swarm now exists.

Even PR departments, in theory, thanks to the web, are no longer dedicated press only suppliers; press releases which are pasted on their own web sites are effectively doing the job (from a single channel point of view) which their new media compatriots are doing.

A press statement on their web pages can be easily viewed by anyone without having to go to a newspaper/or news web to see such. In the old ‘analogue’ days, a corporate press office would fax out a press release or statement to a dedicated news channel only rather than broadcasting it publically via the web.

A problem, in theory then, for news webs is, if so many outlets are regurgitating the same news which is being spun around millions of tablets and phones almost instantaneously, where then the uniqueness or differentiation of any given news site or publication?

What makes one reader choose one of the new news webs over the other?

It may well come down to old fashioned branding/loyalty in the end.

In fact, when you think about it, how does that apply to TV news? Given that much of the news on the various channels is much the same - the recent unfortunate incident with Michael Schumacher over Christmas is a case in point - which news channel do you then decide to stick with/follow? If you cancel out the fact that much of the news is all the same, can it even be down to which newsreader is more attractive/appealing - and thus the rise of the celebrity high kicking news reader?

Some MPs have even debated the BBC’s unique position in this respect.

The BBC relies on a license fee for its income (aside from any spin off income it might generate through merchandising) , which pays its entire staff, journalists etc.

But very many other news sites and outlets are independent and fight on a daily basis for revenue from advertisers, which in turn pays for its journalists,  photographers etc.  They don’t have the cushion/luxury of the licence fee for income.

Differentiation through the quality of journalism might also be the key; unique features and ‘takes’ on the world news.

As we become an increasing digitally techno nation away from the old style analogue model of print, some sages reckon the nature of democracy lies at the heart of the debate; ergo that a good old fashioned newspaper paid for by the public and for the public is the best model for democracy.

As many as 73 per cent of people recently polled said they get their news wholly via the TV alone.

As much online news becomes free, and without an ‘obvious’ model for the future – save perhaps for those search engines and others who may well become the new news giants – it is possible to wonder if the writing might be on the wall for objective news providers.