Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pew Study leads to hilarity, anger, chest-puffing, and lots of blog posts . . . including this one

I try and stay away from journalism turf wars, but this one is very amusing, and ultimately will lead to me saying a few words about content below the fold. 

If you are in the news business I'm sure you have heard about the study released by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism that asks "where does the news come from in today's changing media?"  The report shows that local papers are "offering less than they once did", but that traditional media still accounted for the vast majority of new information found in stories.

Well, duh. I'm no reporter, I'm a blogger so I will state here and now that like the vast majority of bloggers I am a repackager of the news. If you want original reporting you will occasionally get some -- but very little. What I do is search the web, papers and other periodicals for things to bring to you; I add opinion, perspective, maybe some history; I bring two different stories together and tell you how they fit; and occasionally I say something very wrong and totally misinform you (still want to continue reading?).
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See, New Media = bad!

But that didn't stop some new media folk from being a little upset with the study. Bloggers, in particular, can be touchy -- guess it's the fact that we are always in our underwear at work.

The Guardian did a great job of dissecting the study and Times writer David Carr of Media Decoder wrote a great piece on the study and those in the traditional media world that might want to feel a little superior because of it.  He ended it this way: "total elapsed time for post: 38 minutes, number of phone calls or reporting visits: 0, number of words generated or borrowed: 609."  I love it.

But that didn't stop Rick Green, columnist for the Hartford Courant, from feeling mighty superior himself. "Where does news come from? From the NEWSpaper", Green wrote. His post (on his blog, he he he) contained a link to the study, a paragraph taken directly from the study, a chart taken directly from the study, and two originally written sentences. But he works for an actual newspaper so I guess that means it is all original work, right?

OK, that was fun, but what does any of this have to do with the business of the media, and in particular, the new media world? 

Content, content, content. You would think based on what certain newspaper people are writing that their newspapers are 100% original content. Of course it is not true. But what is the content mix of a great newspaper?

Ah "mix" -- that is the key, isn't it? No newspaper is 100% original reporting, and no newspaper is 100% hard news.

The Huffington Post (warning: story on homepage as I write this is very depressing: JOB OPENINGS AT RECORD LOW ), which I do not hold up to be a great new media news organization (at least not yet) is, I feel, doing something very right. They are providing a "mix" -- just like newspapers in print do (how much of last Sunday's newspaper that you received was hard news?).

Many of the site's regular readers have mourned the loss of the "old HP" which was simply a collection of blog posts. But the new HP has news, some links to stories like this one (yes, it's about sex), and those blog posts.  Arianna Huffington even dares calls her site "The Internet Newspaper: News, Blogs, Video, Community" (look at her site all you want, you won't find any "paper").

So how is this mix doing for them? Alexa reports that they rank 39th in web traffic enjoying three times the traffic of a site like that of the Chicago Tribune (which ranks 296).

And here is something that blew me away: compare the page view numbers between Huffington Post and the New York Times web site. Which has more page views? Trick question, the Times does.

But which has more page views per user? That is, which is engaging the user to click more than one story? The winner is HP.  And looking back as far as Alexa will let you, the big change came when HP changed their mix of content from only hard news and blog posts to more of a mix of news, opinion and entertainment. No wonder then that Greg Coleman, the chief revenue officer, has publicly said the site wants to grow revenue by six fold over the next three years (and hired four new ad people to help get the job done).