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Notes

Adapt or Die

As newspaper companies confront a challenging future, they are
increasingly viewing their trademark print product as the engine
driving a diverse “portfolio” that embraces other
“platforms” such as Web sites and niche publications. Is
this a strategy for survival?

By Rachel Smolkin
Rachel Smolkin (rsmolkin@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR’s managing editor.     

For
years, newspapers have treated innovation like a trip to the dentist
— a torture to be endured, not encouraged. True, newspapers
finally got around to adding color. They shrank stories, hoping that
pithier, flashier fare would help attract young people who don’t like
to read. They spruced up the front page by sprinkling uplifting,
maudlin or otherwise titillating features amid the news. But bold new
thinking about the newspaper and a world of opportunities beyond it?
Please. Tell the dentist to add a veneer and leave the rotting core
alone.

Now that’s all changing, of necessity. Circulation
is falling; newsprint costs are rising; retail, auto and movie
advertising is slumping; classified advertising is available free on
craigslist and other online venues. Wall Street’s dissatisfaction with
newspapers boiled over in November, when money manager and Knight
Ridder shareholder Bruce S. Sherman forced the company to put itself up
for sale.

“You look at the choices that face journalists
today,” says Howard Weaver, vice president for news at McClatchy, the
Sacramento-based newspaper chain that’s buying Knight Ridder. “You can
give up, you can hunker down and bleed, or you can fight back. Well, I
want to fight back.”

At McClatchy and other major newspaper companies,
that battle is taking shape as a willingness to experiment with form.
An emerging weltanschauung sees newspapers as the engine driving a
myriad of products — from Web sites to free commuter tabloids to
Spanish-language publications — that can lure additional audience
(those folks we used to call readers) and reinvigorate listless
advertising.

Such thinking is evolutionary. There has been no
easy epiphany, no “EUREKA! THE ANSWER TO MY PROBLEMS IS TO TRANSFORM MY
NEWSPAPER INTO A MULTI-PLATFORM PORTFOLIO!” But the multiplatform
mantra is gaining popularity industry-wide, propelled by a conviction
that a myopic view of newspapers simply won’t work in a fast-changing
world.

Newspapers have not exactly been leaders in this
tech-driven landscape. In the late 1990s, they were tentatively dipping
their toes into the chilly rapids of cyberspace (see “Fear.com,” June 1999);
years later, they still can’t quite figure out what to do with the Web
or how to make money off the thing. But, finally, newspapers are
starting to see the Internet as central to their future. In 2005,
newspaper Internet advertising topped $2 billion for the first time, a
31 percent increase over 2004, according to the Newspaper Association
of America. Unique visitors to newspaper Web sites jumped 21 percent
from January 2005 to December 2005.

“I think we were slow to catch on,” says Jay
Smith, president of Cox Newspapers, a chain of 17 daily and 25
non-daily newspapers. In Atlanta, where Cox is headquartered, its
portfolio includes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; an array of Web
sites (among them ajc.com, ajccars.com, ajcjobs.com and ajchomefinder.com);
two Spanish-language weeklies; and, as of May, Skirt! a free monthly
magazine targeted at women. “I think it’s perfectly natural to protect
what you have, to think what you have is the only thing that people
want,” Smith says. “You look back to the year 2000, and I don’t know
that newspapers ever had a better year financially. Those are the times
that can lull you into a sense of complacency. What we’ve discovered a
full five, six years later is that that world doesn’t exist anymore.”

Smith is the immediate past chairman of the NAA, which describes the emerging philosophy in earnest language in “The Source: Newspapers by the Numbers”,
a thumbnail sketch of the changing $59 billion industry. Old-school
newspaper aficionados should bring along their decoders: instead of
stories and readers, we now have “content” and “audience”; newspapers
and their sister publications are “products” that together create a
“portfolio.” And news itself is passé: We’re in the information
business now.

“The key to the future of newspapers is the effort to build a broad portfolio of products around the core product, the traditional newspaper, and to connect with both general and targeted audiences ,” “The Source” declares with generous use of boldface. “Newspapers across the country have established their presence on the Web
and are aggressively developing additional online products. They are
launching niche publications and reaching out to new audiences,
particularly minorities. It’s all part of a critical transformation : from newspaper companies to information companies.”

Although “convergence” across newspapers, TV and
radio has been a cherished industry buzzword for years, the portfolio
approach focuses primarily on the Internet and print rather than on
traditional radio and television (one exception is the Washington Post,
which launched programming on a local radio station in March). Federal
Communications Commission rules bar newspapers from owning broadcast
stations in the same market (some arrangements are grandfathered in),
and even if they could, TV and radio face the same competitive
pressures and declining audiences that newspapers do. Instead, many
newspapers are enthusiastically adding new audio and video options to
their Web sites, from newscasts to stories to commentary.

Last September, the American Press Institute
launched a yearlong initiative dubbed Newspaper Next aimed at offering
newspaper leaders some guidance in this brave new world. The Newspaper
Next team is working with Innosight LLC, a consulting group run by
Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and an
expert on how established industries get overtaken by “disruptive
innovation.”

Stephen Gray, managing director of Newspaper Next,
says the newspaper industry is exhibiting classic signs of an industry
shaken by seismic changes, often competition from new technologies.
“The newspaper industry, like others that have experienced this
problem, needs to learn some quite counterintuitive ways of
responding,” he says. “One of the things we need to be clear about in
our project is the focus of Newspaper Next is how to create innovation
outside of our core product. We have as an industry really little
record of innovation.”

Gray agrees that newspaper leaders are shifting
their approach, and he believes the pace of change is quickening.
“There’s definitely an increased tempo,” he says. “I think the Knight
Ridder tragedy, if you can use that word, is one of the things that
accelerated it. People looked at it and said, ‘If it can happen to
Knight Ridder, I better get moving.’ Knight Ridder itself had a number
of interesting things going on, but it takes time to get these new
things moving to the point that they’re generating significant
revenue.”

And as Bruce Sherman demonstrated so chillingly (see “Sherman’s March,” February/March),
shareholders may not be willing to wait much longer while newspapers
find their footing. “Seeing that happen was just a real wake-up call
not only to publicly traded companies but even to privately held
companies,” Gray says. “I’d say broadly across the industry, my
impression is that people came away from it thinking, ‘We have to move
faster. The wolf is closer to our heels than we thought.'”

Ken Marlin is managing partner of Marlin &
Associates, a New York investment banking firm that specializes in
media and technology deals. He compares newspapers’ predicament to the
demise of the slide rule: “[O]ne of the fundamental mistakes that a lot
of slide rule manufacturers made was in thinking that people wanted
slide rules instead of calculations. The slide rule world got wiped out
virtually overnight by electronic calculators.” Marlin says his analogy
is imperfect, because newspapers are not in imminent danger of getting
wiped out; he expects them to be around 10 years from now. But the
“newspaper companies, like the slide rule manufacturers, have to either
adapt to the new economics or die.”


To adapt, newspapers are, yes, innovating.


At Studio 55, “host” Denise Spidle credits both naplesnews.com
and the Naples Daily News of Florida during her perky, 15-minute
newscast. Such rigorous attribution is not only transparent journalism
but also effective marketing: Studio 55 is a video newscast, or “vodcast,” produced by E.W. Scripps’ Naples Daily News.

“Potentially we have greater reach with the
vodcast than any other product we’ve ever done,” says President and
Publisher John Fish. “The vodcast, from the advertisers’ standpoint, is
the best multimedia buy in our area.” Spidle’s newscast is posted on
naplesnews.com each weekday at 4 p.m. and updated at 6 p.m.; it also
airs on the local Comcast cable channel. Sponsors’ 30-second spots
appear in both formats. The 69,456-circulation Naples Daily News lists
sponsors in daily promotions of the vodcast in the paper, and an
assortment of specialty publications, including a Spanish-language
weekly and five magazines, promote the vodcast and its sponsors as
well.

Studio 55 was born April 3 into a local broadcast
vacuum. Although Fort Myers, 30 miles to the north, boasts four TV
stations, none is based in Naples, the county seat of fast-growing and
affluent Collier County. Fish, who believes video will play an
important role in newspapers’ future, saw an opportunity. “I think that
the competitive environment that we all find ourselves in, combined
with the economic challenges that we all face, requires that we look at
our business in different ways than we have in the past,” he says.

During his year and a half as publisher, Fish has
tripled the Daily News’ new-media team to 30 people, including four
videographers who produce news and commercials, and has overseen the
creation of a broadcast studio in a building next door to the newsroom.
In October, the new-media team launched a podcast that listeners can
access on their computers or download onto their iPods each morning.
Like the vodcast, the podcast showcases the newspapers’ reporters and
their work. “I’ve told our staff my goal is to produce the very best
podcast and the very best vodcast of any paper in the country,” says
Fish, who expects revenue from the new-media ventures to quadruple from
the end of 2004 to this year. “Not only do we want to be the best
new-media operation in the country for any paper our size, we also want
to be the most profitable.”

Gannett, the nation’s highest-circulation
newspaper chain, has moved aggressively during the last six or seven
years to develop a portfolio of “niche content offerings,” which
totaled 1,006 in mid-April. These include Spanish-language weeklies,
coupon books, 10 weekly city magazines aimed at young people and “ZIP
code” magazines written for and about residents of specific ZIP codes.
Many of the non-daily publications rely heavily on calendar information
detailing local happenings.

“What the niche publications do is reach
hard-to-get-to audiences for us traditionally, so it provides a ready
vehicle for advertisers that in many cases we haven’t had before,” says
Sue Clark-Johnson, president of Gannett’s newspaper division. As one
example, she cites a weekly tab aimed at young women in Phoenix that
fills a void in coverage of Southwest fashion. It’s included as an
insert in the Arizona Republic in some areas and also is distributed at
outlets frequented by the targeted audience. The stories, produced by
the newspaper’s staff, are all local: The tab “does not have fur coats
and boots in the August issue,” Clark-Johnson notes. It includes ads
from local bead stores and boutiques that have never advertised in the
Arizona Republic.

Even the Associated Press, long known for its
meat-and-potatoes approach to news, is spicing up its menu to serve its
clients better in this changing world. “Wherever newspapers go, we want
to be in a position to provide them what they need,” says AP President
and CEO Tom Curley. He says performing well on breaking news remains
the AP’s top priority, but he’s trying to add more enterprise and
contextual coverage. “We want to have ownership of the story for longer
than the first few hours.”

So the AP offers blogs and podcasts. On March 1, it started the AP Online Video Network,
which now produces about 40 stories a day in video form (Microsoft
provides the ad support and the video player). For its debut, the video
network provided coverage of New Orleans cleaning up from its first
Mardi Gras since Hurricane Katrina. On April 26, story choices included
rising gas prices and White House political adviser Karl Rove
testifying before a grand jury for the fifth time. (To check out how
the AP videos are used, try chron.com or cleveland.com and look under “News Video”; they are also available on other newspaper and radio Web sites.)

Last fall, the AP also joined the stampede to lasso elusive young readers, launching asap
(pronounced a-s-a-p) to help entertain the under-35 crowd. In late
April, asap’s contributions included a story about adults racing
plastic tricycles down San Francisco’s “crookedest” street and a
first-person commentary from Angie Wagner, the AP’s Western regional
writer and a stressed-out, sleep-deprived mother of two.

Busy moms also are a focus at the Dallas Morning
News, a Belo paper that is fashioning an online, one-stop resource with
local “mom-tested” recommendations on all things parenting, from summer
camps to pediatricians to academic tutors. The early idea for the
Master Mom project is to create a rating system similar to the reader
feedback averages on Amazon.com. The format is still taking shape.
Would it be best to segment subjects by neighborhood in a city as a
large as Dallas? Should activities be subdivided by gender and age?

“The idea was really driven from kind of extending
our in-depth local coverage to meet audience needs,” says Jiggs Foster,
the paper’s marketing director. Staff asked, “What’s a need that’s
unmet in the Dallas marketplace that we can fulfill?… What is the job
that moms need done that’s not currently being met by anybody else?”

API’s Newspaper Next is providing free consulting
for the Master Mom project, and these are exactly the kinds of
questions that Gray and his team want newspapers to pose. Why? Because
the slide rule analogy, while instructive, overlooks one of the
challenges newspapers face: Sometimes competitors aren’t all that
obvious. Just as the wolf tricked Little Red Riding Hood by donning her
grandmother’s cap and nightgown, so have threats at times seemed
innocuous, and certainly irrelevant, to the core business of
newspapers.

Take craigslist,
the community space for classifieds from housing to jobs to personals.
“That doesn’t even look to us like it has anything to do with
newspapers when it comes on the scene, and probably didn’t to Craig
Newmark, either,” Gray says. (Newmark, who started craigslist in 1995,
agrees. “I didn’t have a clue” about his site’s impact on the industry,
he says. “The effect we’ve had on news has been greatly exaggerated,
although,” he jokes, “it makes a better story that way.”)

Newmark “didn’t think of himself as being in the
newspaper industry,” Gray continues. “He looked at the market and said,
‘There are a bunch of people here with jobs they’d like to get done…
I’ll just make this and see what happens.’ In the early stages, any
newspaper person would have looked at it and said, ‘Well, that’s
interesting, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me.’ Pretty soon,
in some markets, you’re seeing 50,000 to 100,000 items advertised…
That thing that didn’t look initially like it had anything to do with
[newspapers] worked its way into our space.”

To help newspapers spot new opportunities in a
changing marketplace, Gray and the Innosight consultants suggest this
approach: “People are trying to get certain information jobs done in
their lives,” he says. “What are those jobs? What jobs are very
important to them and occur frequently, and they’re really frustrated
about the solutions available to them?” As the Morning News team
explores its mom-oriented venture, “they’re not even thinking about
whether [the moms] read a newspaper,” Gray adds. “It’s not really
relevant. They’re saying, ‘We think we can build a significant audience
that we know would be of interest to advertisers.'”


Will
any of this work? Will the new print publications and Internet
initiatives help convince Wall Street that newspapers have a plan for
the future other than incessant cost-cutting?

“I do think that newspapers have a strong future,
and it lies in the fact that they will be or are the last mass medium
in each local market,” says Gary Pruitt, the chairman and CEO of
McClatchy, which is gambling $6.5 billion — $4.5 billion plus
another $2 billion in assumed debt — on newspapers’ future to buy
Knight Ridder. (McClatchy is selling 12 Knight Ridder papers, including
the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News.) “That’s a
good, strong position to be in because we’re holding onto our market
better than our local competition. Before, that used to be enough. But
it’s only the beginning now. It’s no longer sufficient just to have
that core daily newspaper; instead, we need to leverage off of it this
whole portfolio of products, including, and most importantly, the
leading local Internet site.”

In the short run, Pruitt, who outlined the
newspaper-as-engine strategy in a March 16 Wall Street Journal
commentary, thinks newspaper companies must do a better job of
explaining this strategy to investors. “The first thing we need to
communicate is that newspapers are strong and viable and have good
futures, because I think they are consistently underestimated,” he
says. “Secondarily, and without taking anything away from the first
point, also articulating that we are not just a newspaper, that in each
market we’re the leading local media company, the leading local
Internet company,” capable of delivering news continuously. In the long
term, he adds, “the proof will be in performance. We’re just going to
have to deliver.”

Of course, newspapers have been strong performers
for a long time — and that’s part of the problem, says Conrad
Fink, a professor of newspaper management and strategy at the
University of Georgia. In 2004, he says, profits of publicly owned
newspaper companies averaged about 20 percent, compared with an average
11 percent for Fortune 500 companies. “We’ve been hugely profitable in
the past, and Wall Street only knows one mantra: ‘More please, more,'”
says Fink, a former Associated Press vice president. He thinks
Sherman’s success at strong-arming Knight Ridder shows “we damn well
have got severe problems with investors who in my opinion are
completely unreasonable. I do not see that pressure lessening unless we
make some kind of change in investor psychology, which is, of course, a
hell of a challenge.”

And because newspapers are reacting to a difficult
economic climate, they don’t have the luxury of gently reeducating
sanguine investors; instead, they’re preoccupied with trying to keep
revenue and profits from sinking further. Edward Atorino, a media
analyst at the New York-based brokerage firm Benchmark Co., says
newspapers are trying to change their business plans “in the midst of a
very tough advertising environment.” Although ad revenue rose slightly
in 2005, it was up less than expected, he says, and 2006 is off to a
disappointing start. “I think they’re doing what they can do. It’s hard
to turn businesses around on a dime… The business literally fell out
of bed a couple years ago, and they reacted slowly to the Internet.”

When newspapers did react to the Web, most gave
news away free, turning the journalism business into a giant
philanthropy. “Should they have charged for that like Dow Jones did?
It’s too late now,” Atorino says. “They’re trying to play catch-up, and
that’s a tough game.”

They’re also trying to figure out exactly what
their mission is in this audience-driven, multiplatform era. Esther
Dyson, editor of Release 1.0, a technology newsletter at CNET Networks,
says newspaper companies need to be clear about what they’re trying to
accomplish, and they need to do it well. “Are you a media company,
tailoring content to reach an audience and sell ads? Or are you a
journalistic enterprise, focused on finding out and publicizing
important truths? If you don’t really know what you’re trying to do,
then you keep disappointing people who think they understand,” she
says.

“The whole company doesn’t need to do the same
thing, but the parts need to understand” their role and have a business
model that supports it. So far, she says of newspaper companies’
attempts to capitalize on the Web, niche publications and other
potential moneymakers, “most of them are not crisp enough about it.”

What, for example, should papers do with their Web
sites? Post all the newspaper stories, toss in some breaking news and
spruce it up with a few blogs and podcasts? Try something innovative
and completely different from news as we know it, like the Master Mom
project? How should they persuade existing advertisers to come aboard
their Web sites, and attract new advertisers as well?

“From my perspective, newspapers ain’t doing too
bad on the Internet,” says Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, a
media research and consulting firm that tracks Internet advertising
revenues for local Web sites. He says papers have used the last 10
years to bring their print advertisers online, and the next 10 will be
critical to see if papers can expand that ad base and transform their
Internet sites into viable businesses in their own right.

Borrell says newspapers should start by relaxing a
little, and realize that readers still prefer the printed paper for
local news. “People don’t go to the Internet in huge droves for local
school board news or local crime news,” he says. “I think [newspapers]
should stop giving that away on the Internet.”

But he also believes newspapers need to give their
Web operations some independence. If newspaper companies hope to
survive, he says, they have to realize the Internet is a distinct
medium, and the newspaper needs a separate set of very strong managers
who can’t be distracted by what’s going on online. “They have it
married too much in their minds. The newspaper and online in their
minds are Siamese twins.”

Borrell suggests thinking of newspaper Web sites in part as a general store for local commerce, and recommends boston.com (run by the Boston Globe), triangle.com (Raleigh’s News & Observer) and HamptonRoads.com
(Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot) as fine examples of this approach.
HamptonRoads.com includes stories, but the information-packed site
doesn’t look like a newspaper. It features top-rated local restaurants,
daily polls (one in late April asked visitors if Hampton Roads’ economy
is too dependent on the military; another asked who should get the next
“American Idol” boot), a stock market update and a local marketplace
“DealSpotter” for shoppers, subdivided into categories such as
automotive, home and garden, and apparel and jewelry.

Investment banker Ken Marlin also warns against
simply hurling the print edition into cyberspace. “It’s not good enough
to take what you have in print form and put it up on the Web,” he says.
“You have to take advantage of what the new medium offers and what the
new medium allows you to do.” While a newspaper might list Italian
restaurants in a neighborhood, its Web site could allow readers to say,
“I’m standing on a corner. Tell me the inexpensive Italian restaurants
within half a mile or so and book a reservation.”


The
architects of the multiplatform portfolios must think globally, paying
attention to viable business models and detailed audience research and
direct-mail programs for advertisers. But at a Newspaper Next symposium
in Washington, D.C., in early February, the first day of a provocative
conference about the future of newspapers didn’t include a single word
about watchdog journalism or investigative reporting.

Protecting the unique work that newspapers do will
be critical to preserving their value. Doing so will not be easy. The
shifting business model is ushering in dramatic changes for print
journalists, making significant demands on their time, compelling new
skills and requiring a new way of thinking about their jobs.

At the Miami Herald in early April, Executive
Editor Tom Fiedler installed a sports-bar-size, flat-screen monitor
outside the newsroom that displays and continuously refreshes MiamiHerald.com.
The homepage is the first thing journalists see when they step off the
fifth-floor elevators; newspaper racks aren’t visible until they turn
left into the newsroom.

Fiedler followed up this bit of symbolism with an
April 12 staff memo laying bare the ramifications of the multiplatform
shift on the newsroom itself. “We are beyond being satisfied with
incremental change and giving polite head nods toward other media
platforms,” Fielder wrote in the memo, which was quickly posted and
debated on Jim Romenesko’s media blog.
“We are going to execute fundamental restructuring to support that
pledge. Every job in the newsroom — EVERY JOB — is going to
be redefined to include a web responsibility and, if appropriate,
radio. For news gatherers, this means posting everything we can as soon
as we can. It means using the web site to its fullest potential for
text, audio and video. We’ll come to appreciate that MiamiHerald.com is
not an appendage of the newsroom; it’s a fundamental product of the
newsroom.”

In an interview two days later, Fiedler said he
wants to structure the newsroom toward delivering news when journalists
have it, not toward delivering a morning newspaper. “We’re way too
comfortable thinking of ourselves as newspaper people,” he says. “We’ve
got to take a step back and shake ourselves loose of that.” He
envisions adding a continuous news desk to oversee stories for the Web
and designating a breaking news editor with the authority to dispatch
reporters to cover news live, much as TV news crews do. He expects the
newspaper itself will “take on a more historic feel: ‘For the record,
this is what’s happening.'”

What will all these new obligations mean for the
thorough, in-depth reporting that separates newspapers from their
competitors? Will reporters’ responsibilities to write for the Web mean
they simply don’t have time to make that extra call to the mayor, or
the police chief, or the local gadfly — time-consuming reporting
that adds nuance to stories and sometimes changes their direction
entirely? “That’s a challenge,” Fiedler says. “I’m determined to
overcome that challenge.”

In both his memo and in the interview, Fiedler
emphasized that he doesn’t want to “bleed the newspaper” to build up
the Web site. He says he’s looking into adding a few newsroom positions
and realizes the paper probably will need to drop some mundane
elements, such as stock tables. “The first concern that reporters have
is, ‘Are you in effect going to turn me into a wire service reporter?'”
Fiedler says. “One reporter asked, ‘Does this mean we’re going to have
[story] quotas?’ That’s not at all what I’m thinking, and I don’t
believe that’s necessary.”

Fiedler
also aims to steer clear of the If-It-Bleeds-It-Leads mentality so
prevalent in local TV news. “One of the things I want to avoid is the
cheapest and simplest kind of news that we could feed to the Web page
and call it continuous news,” such as covering “anything with yellow
police tape around it,” Fiedler says. “I really want us to do the kind
of journalism that distinguishes us.”

The Miami Herald is among the Knight Ridder papers
that McClatchy plans to keep, but when Fiedler issued his memo, he
couldn’t discuss newsroom changes with his new bosses because the sale
was pending. (The Justice Department has since changed its regulations
to allow such conversations, he says.) While the ownership change
introduced “a bit of an X factor for us here and for me,” Fiedler said
in the interview that he had “to believe that this is a direction that
they would want us to move in also.”

He’s right, if Gary Pruitt’s comments are any
indication. Pruitt says the multiplatform model demands more from print
journalists because it puts them back in the business of breaking news.
“Everything becomes harder for everybody,” Pruitt says. He thinks the
best solution is a continuous news desk in the newsroom that focuses on
breaking news. “But then of course there are others doing in-depth,
investigative pieces,” he says. “This is not mutually exclusive. We’re
going to have to do all of it. We can’t abandon one for the other,
because that will weaken the core newspaper.”

McClatchy’s 125,228-circulation News Tribune in
Tacoma, Washington, has established a continuous news desk that is
staffed beginning at 6 a.m. and focuses on weather and traffic for
early drive-time reports in addition to breaking news. The paper’s Web
site (thenewstribune.com)
offers a potpourri of blogs on subjects including sports, real estate,
food and fly-fishing, and will soon add a blog on military affairs and
a guide to local online sites. Reporters and photographers also use
podcasts to provide behind-the-scene glimpses into their newsgathering.

At the Washington Post, journalists routinely feed washingtonpost.com
with stories, online chats and blogs. They appear on TV news shows and
on Washington Post Radio, an AM-FM station launched March 30 that’s
programmed mainly by the Post and owned by Bonneville International
Corp. “The jobs are becoming more versatile,” Post Publisher and CEO Bo
Jones says of his journalists. (The paper’s Guild chapter, unhappy that
some reporters aren’t getting paid for the increased workload, in April
filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.) Jones,
Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. and Managing Editor Philip Bennett
are looking at how changes to the newsroom’s organizational structure
could better serve the Web as well as the paper. “You don’t necessarily
have to organize all your newsroom staff along sections anymore,” says
Jones, who is also chairman of the NAA. “The sections that run off the
presses aren’t always relevant to the Web.”

One sure sign that we’re in a very different
world: Downie, who joined the Post as a summer intern in 1964 and
personifies the traditional newspaperman, recently told his staff that
the Post needs to become “platform-agnostic.” (Washington City Paper
reported this comment and added, “When your 63-year-old editor starts
sounding like Esther Dyson, you know your newsroom is changing.”)
Downie talks enthusiastically about the Post’s continuous news desk and
about working with the Post Co.’s Spanish-language paper, El Tiempo
Latino, to translate more Post stories into Spanish. A few Post
reporters have started using video cameras to capture scenes for
washingtonpost.com. Downie sees that practice expanding “entirely on a
voluntary basis” in the future.

The Post, like the rest of the industry, has not
been immune to cutbacks. On March 10, the company announced that it
would eliminate about 80 full-time newsroom positions over the next
year — about 9 percent of its news staff — through
attrition and by offering early retirement. Asked if a willingness to
serve the Post’s various platforms helps preserve newsroom slots that
might otherwise be lost as circulation declines, Downie says, “In a
general sense that might be the case, but not directly; there’s no
direct quid pro quo.” But he also says, “Certainly the fact that we are
producing content now for many different platforms means that dollars
that are spent in the newsroom” go further.

Philip Meyer, the Knight Chair in Journalism at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of “The
Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age,” is
dismayed that newspapers are increasing workloads instead of increasing
staff and ignoring what he sees as an opportunity to invest in their
futures. “There’s a lot more activity on the Internet sites. I’m not
sure that’s gotten to the point of creating new content, or new
resources are being thrown into it,” he says. Instead, “editors and
reporters are supposed to serve the Internet during their coffee
breaks.”


Will
the multiplatform approach inevitably lead us to abandon printed
newspapers? In Meyer’s view, it is an excellent transitional model
— newspaper readers, like newspaper journalists, hate rapid
change — but not an end point. He says the Internet offers a
chance to trade the high costs of ink on paper for a free distribution
system.

“They should start phasing out of it,” Meyer, a
newspaper veteran, says of the traditional print version. “I think the
newspaper will survive in some form, possibly less than daily. I think
people will still want a print product to carry around with them, but
it might be a weekend product.” Maybe, Meyer suggests, readers could
pick up newspapers of the future at the train station on their way to
work, eliminating home-delivery costs.

“But the key to it is a stronger journalistic
product…and this is what the industry is missing right now,” Meyer
says. “Instead, they’re doing the opposite, trying to save their way to
prosperity by cutting back on the product. If they don’t take advantage
of this opportunity, somebody else is going to do it for them.”

A surprisingly similar take on newspapers’ future
comes from a man with no journalism background but a strong sense of
the Internet’s possibilities. “I would be doing whatever I could to
make the online version of the site increasingly compelling; I would be
engaging the community more; I would be investigating delivery of news
to mobile devices, particularly cell phones, and paying a lot of
attention to, let’s call them electronic ink technologies, including
the scrollable displays from companies like Philips and HP,” says
craigslist’s Craig Newmark. “I love the use of paper, but it’s
expensive to buy, it’s expensive to print, and it’s expensive to
deliver.”

Newmark reads the print version of the San
Francisco Chronicle every day, and he’s also started reading the New
York Times more frequently “in part to make Arthur happy” (that would
be Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.). He’s a fan of bloggers and
citizen journalism, but he also describes professional journalism as
“very strong. It involves serious editing, fact-checking, that kind of
thing, and I think that will be the strength that newspapers bring to
their electronic media. I do see video and the written word all
converging, delivered electronically, with paper more of an occasional
luxury item,” Newmark says, cheerfully advising anybody listening to
take his views with a large grain of salt.

But McClatchy’s Pruitt doesn’t foresee
old-fashioned newspapers disappearing anytime soon. “It is likely that
circulation will decline slowly over time, as more audiences become
comfortable with the Internet, but the newspaper will remain viable as
print on paper for as far out as we can project at McClatchy,” he says.
“Half the people in the United States still read a daily newspaper, and
that number is not declining quickly.”

As Pruitt sees it, the multiplatform approach is a
way to protect newspapers, not bury them. “Small niche products or
direct-mail programs may seem nitty-gritty or competing at the low end,
but it’s that kind of business activity that will sustain the high-end
journalism in the core,” he says. “I think if you don’t create this
portfolio of products, you’re probably destined to lose share and be a
smaller economic entity, which long-term will hurt the potential of
what the newspaper and the journalism can be. Can it be a distraction?
Of course, if you let it be. But it can also be the engine that can
drive success.”

Cox’s Jay Smith sees this tumultuous period of
transformation as an opportunity for a newspaper renaissance. “Nothing
can motivate you like tough times, but we’ve also gotten beyond some of
our rigid thinking about what we do and how we must do it,” he says. “I
don’t think I’ve ever seen a more open and receptive time in newspapers
in the last 40 years.”

And Gray, of Newspaper Next, puts the case for
innovation this way: “If someone is not reading a newspaper or not
reading a Web site, how are you fulfilling your civic mission? You’ve
got to have some kind of connection with people in order to fulfill
your civic mission. It’s up to you to figure out the right mix. I say
let’s start the products, let’s build the audiences, let’s attract the
advertisers, and let’s remember who we are.”

And who, exactly, are we? In an era when even Len
Downie touts platform agnosticism, old newspaper mores are clearly
disappearing. What will replace them? How will we guard newspapers’
spirit: their gift for knitting together disparate threads of a
community rather than pandering to divergent demographics, ages and
interests; their commitment to watchdog journalism and to holding the
powerful accountable; their lofty standards of dogged fact-finding and
tireless digging?

There’s a good reason journalists are so wary of
innovation. Daring new experiments intended to save newspapers must not
destroy their souls. They must not turn print journalists into spinning
tops, whirling from podcasts to vodcasts to radio appearances to online
chats to blogging, then clutching their video cameras as they rush to
an assignment and, if they get a free second, trying to squeeze in a
little reporting.

It’s worth noting — and a hopeful sign
— that the Pulitzer Prizes this year honored work that shows
newspapers at their finest and most traditional: the Washington Post’s
Dana Priest for exposing the CIA’s network of secret prisons abroad;
the New York Times’ James Risen and Eric Lichtblau for revealing the
National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping; Copley News
Service and the company’s San Diego Union-Tribune for toppling a
corrupt congressman; and the staffs at New Orleans’ Times-Picayune and
Gulfport, Mississippi’s Sun Herald for valiant reporting on Hurricane
Katrina and its aftermath, when their devastated communities needed
them most.

If newspapers abandon the relentless reporting
that makes them special, then their future won’t be worth protecting,
in any form.

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SEO and file names

“I am curious to get additional input on the imortance of file names
(i.e. keyword.html) as it relates to SEO. Some experts advise to name
website files using keywords, and others are silent on the subject.
Given the formula for page density, # of inbound links and the actual
text of the inbound links, I don’t know where the name of the file can
fit into the equation.”

No changes were made to the page so it seems to have risen on its own
accord. AFAIK know, no additional links have been added, so this is all
on-page. On Google.com it is already ranked 6th. With just one page and
4 links all originating from a dmoz listing. there are over 70,000
pages competing for the exact phrase “webmaster community”.

There is plenty of disagreement about whether exact keywords as domain
name helps or not. I think this is highlighting that it might just be
an important factor and the sole reason is not just about link text in
keyword domains.

I think the question of keywords in file names is one of the very good
examples of how dynamic algorithms works in search engines. You can
find valid examples where a keyword in the file name seems to be the
dertermining factor and other examples that show it’s clearly not –
competitive or non-competitive. It makes analysis very confusing. Not
only do we have to understand what role a parameter like this (out of
hundreds) influence on rankings but also when it does so – in which
searches.


In my personal experience keywords in file names are one of the less
significant ranking factors. For most searches it dosen’t seem to me to
be a very important factor and for the few where it is I most often
find it very easy to compete against – even with file names without the
keyword. So, in other words, I have personally found it to mostly be a
determening factor for less competitive searches.

I believe it used to matter more. Expecially in Google.
Mikkel deMib Svendsen

The real question is not if keywords help in file names [they do] but if they help more or less than a shorter url.

Imagine you are a search engine;

http://www.example.com/keyword/this…you-like-it.htm

www.example.com/237.htm

Which is likely to contain the “best” content?
> Which is likely to contain the “best” content?

This is a very interesting question. Many of you probably remember the
analysis Yahoo did, I think it was last year, where they tested the
quality of pages with various number of hyphens in them. As I remember
they said the quality dramatically went down after two!

I am pretty sure they make similar analysis of URL-length, complexity
and other such things all the time. And you are right NFFC, such
testings may very well show that, generally, shorter URLs contain
better content. If the analysis show that, in general, be asured it
will be used. However, I have no solid proof that is in fact the case
today. I do not that very long URL’s hurt your but I am actually not
certain about the exact cutt off.

Quote:
What is certain is that on Google search result listing, though not in
all, keywords in file names are EMPAHSIZED. That’s why I know it is
important.

You can’t draw that conclusion based on what Google chose to show. What
they show and highlight in a listing is not the same as how they rank
pages. Ranking algo’s is a million times more complex than what they
show (and thats probably wise if they want to keep the majority of
average users! )

why not just wwf.ca/saveourclimate?

http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?t=257

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Notes

Climate Key words

Searches  Help
climate 124,267
climate control 24,536
climate change 17,433
climate news 11,814
national climate 9,890
climate change solutions 9,465
saudi arabia climate 8,573
climate of spain 3,790
weather and climate 3,598
world climate 3,232

 

 
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Key words in the URL

No I don’t have any evidence concerning the weight that keywords in the
URL play. It is gererally accepted that keywords in the URL have
Ranking weight – how much, no one really knows.

How ever I can offer evidence, and just have, concerning the command
allinurl: and what form of keywords it uses in determining the results
position from the allinurl:keyword command. It is the latter, not the
former that my posts have been discussing.

Just do an allinurl:web design, or any other 2 work phrase that suites
your fancy, and you will quickly see that the results are made up of
the key words web and design seperated by a dash or forward slash or as
a file name or directory by themselves. In most cases you will not see
in the results entries that show the two words together (i.e.
webdesign) in the URL.
A search for
webdesign returns 19,100,00 results
web design returns 28,100,000
“web design” returns 15,100, 000 results.

While these are estimated numbers of pages and may not be correct, they do show that each is considered as seperate terms.

Bob, I would also like to see your evidence. I have tested this theory
and found the exact opposite. To begin with, an allinurl query has
nothing to do with rankings. Searchers do not use an allinurl when
searching. You might, but 99.99% of searchers do not.

If we are talking Google only here, then here are some facts for you.
Test yourself if you like. The bolding of terms is nothing more than a
representative that the word was found. Google DOES NOT use the
description for ranking purposes, though will bold the words found
within the description if used instead of a snippet.

As David said earlier, names in URL’s, folders and filenames actually
have little to no affect in Google anymore. They are bolded in the
SERP’s for display purposes that hopefully the site is about what you
have searched, highlighting some parts of the results for you to make
your choice a little easier without having to read each and every
result word to word.

Again, this is Google. Yahoo and MSN are completely different again.
This is from actual testing I have done, most likely something like
David has also done for himself to find the fact from the fiction.

Next part, hyphens. Google will actually read words within words,
whether hyphenated or not. Google has done so for a long time now
actually, for those that haven’t noticed. You DO NOT need to hyphenate
words within domains for Google to have them read as unique words. For
example, the domain “thedomainisfortestpurposesonly.com”, Google will
actually read any part of any word within that domain. Google will see
that exactly the same as “the-domain-is-for-test-purposes-only.com”. To
a user, the hyphenated version is easier to the eye, though to the
search engine, either is acceptable and read the same for the same
query.

http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?t=1505

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URL recall & search engine

“Does MSN (& other search engines) rank a site differently if a key term being searched on is repeated within the entire URL?”

* Placing keywords in a URL doesn’t have enough effect to really worry
much about it in my experience. Do what is best for your visitors as
well as your webmaster. As far as optimization, focus more on
optimizing title tags and the actual content of your pages.

* I don’t believe that “shirts” will be read from the domain anyway – to
search engines unless there’s punction or spaces to break up words,
then joined words are more often than not going to be perceived as new
words.

So “blueshirts” is not seen as “blue” + “shirts” but simply the word “blueshirts”.

Using keyword URLs can be useful, but ultimately are only one part of a
general “on-page elements” armour. (I’ve actually removed many of my
own keyworded URL, considering them as over-optimised and not useful
for human users – which is ultimately who is being optimised for).

As an additional point, though, it’s worth using your files as folder index files, such as:

blueshirts.com/mens/shirts/

instead of

blueshirts.com/mens/shirts.html

because Search Engines actually read URLs rather than pages – so if you
change your URLs, such as having new page extensions – .shtml or .php
or .asp from .html – then you lose prior rankings and have to go
through all the indexing + ranking process all over again.

Folder paths removes that annoyance, and can make URLs much more natural, too.

For example:

blueshirts.com/mens-shirts-us-distributors-arizona.html

vs

blueshirts.com/mens/shirts/us/distributors/arizona/

First can seem tacky and over optimised, but the second looks far more natural as a long URL.

*
Instead of looking at it from an SEO standpoint, why not look at it from a usability standpoint. Your URIs should be natural
in appearance. They should follow your site structure to the “t”. If
you have a breadcrumb trail at the top of the page that looks like
this…

Home > Autos > Chrysler > Crossfire

Then you will probably have a URI that looks like this…

www.example.com/autos/chrysler/crossfire/

or…

autos.example.com/chrysler/crossfire/

It is only natural. Forget about the search engines when
developing your site structure. Think about your users and the
memorability of the URIs. Also think about how easily it is to navigate
a site where the URI paths are natural and follow the site structure.

From my perspective, keywords in the URI are part of the overall
equation. But, you can definitely go overboard. Too many hyphens,
strings too long, use of other delimiters, etc. Keep them short, sweet
and easy to remember and type in. Work from that standpoint and you’ll
be that much further ahead. It also makes site management and
maintenance a whole lot easier!

*

http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?t=1505

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URL Recall 4

Nowadays, as the
Internet is currently on track to have 200 million plus domains registered
by the year 2003, with tens of millions of Dot Coms alone registered already,
it is proving hard to get a short snappy URL (Unique Resource Locator, the
techie word for a web address).
The shorter a URL
the less characters you need to type, so the easier it is to remember. Yet
also this is a reason to get a powerful English word such as Amazon (.com),
as you don’t have to remember� “was it amazonshop.com or amazonstore.com”?
Memorability is also the reason for the final major aspects of domain scarcity:
Industry Size. If your name describes the product you deal with such as
loans.com for a loans company then it is usually more memorable to site
users, who can then find you again amongst the millions of other Dot Coms.
And by this Industry Size criteria loans.com is clearly more valuable than
carloans.com.
http://www.tangy.com/about/newbies1.cfm

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URL Recall 3

“Human memory for sequences is temporally limited, with a short term
capacity of around seven, plus or minus two items. In addition, when
humans do remember a sequence of items, those items be familiar chunks
such as words or familiar symbols. Finally, human memory thrives on
redundancy-we’re much better at remembering information we can encode
in multiple ways”
http://cyberforge.com/weblog/aniltj/archive/2004/10/14/689.aspx

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URL Recall 2

Memorability includes using page names and URL’s that make
the resource easy to find. The ability to integrate the “virtual conference”
onto the web site for the professional society that sponsors the annual CHI
conference was an important aspect of capturing
users that already have some interest in the content. Because of the path
dependent nature of content access (content linked to other content) users of
the web must encounter content where they expect it–or they will not find
it. A good search engine might help this problem–but in many situations
a user must know what they
want before they can find it with a search engine. This dilemma–that one
must know what they want before they know that they want it–limits the user
of the search engine to finding only what they expect and does not take
advantage of the semantic architecture of the World Wide Web. By integrating
our “virtual conference” into the flow of users seeking information on the field
of human-computer interaction, everyone who remembered that www.acm.com/sigchi/
was where information regarding human factors and computing is located could
also browse our web site. We also selected a name of our virtual conference
that parodied the real conference–CHI’00 (KH’i naught).
http://www.microsoft.com/usability/webconf/fuller/fuller.htm

http://www.otal.umd.edu/uupractice/low_ed/

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URL Recall 1

However, reports and literature on this subject suggests users attach both meaning and
purpose to URLs or domain names. The capacity of short and long term human memory
is also a factor in URL recall and reconstruction (i.e. where a user cannot remember the
URL but is able to construct the elements based on experience and reasoning abilities).
As a result, URLs with shorter and/or more meaningful names are more easily
remembered and/or accurately reconstructed by Internet and WWW users. For example,
the URL www.next.co.uk is more easily remembered by those who wish to shop online
at the store called Next, or by those who have already shopped there. Experienced web
users will also be able to construct this URL if asked without previous domain visits –
they are likely to try www.next.com and maybe www.next.org.uk amongst other
variations. Other URL names also make use of user domain construct features but there
may still be difficulties. For example, the URL for the Environment Agency in the UK is
www.environment-agency.gov.uk .The construct of the URL has an implicit meaning,
insofar as it contains the name of the agency it represents. However, users who have not visited this site before may find difficulty in producing a domain construction due to the
hyphen and the .gov classification type

www.karinta-konsult.se/del4.6.pdf

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Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series.

Being a good author is a disappearing act.

By ELMORE LEONARD

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain
invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than
tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for
language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you,
invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules.
Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create
atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you
don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead
looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry
Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you
can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an
introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily
found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can
drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet
Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book
makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like
a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me
what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what
he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the
guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not
too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a
bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a
little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set
aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle
to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the
writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than
grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending
a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop
reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost
any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in
earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of
the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used
to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of
prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom
Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that
writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in
the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading
the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the
way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of
short stories “Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills
Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl
with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it
on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical
description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by
their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with
language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if
you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring
the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a
novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in
them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating
hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone
into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the
guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you
don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I
can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the
sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain
invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.
(Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what
you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a
particular character—the one whose view best brings the scene to
life—I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the
characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they
see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in “Sweet Thursday” was title his
chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover.
“Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy
Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled
“Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle
2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying:
“Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy
with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip
them if you want.”

“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just
beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that
prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.