Long Live Long Form

In a Mediabeat Interview (click image to view) with Michael Wolff, founder of Newser (“Read Less, Know More”), a news aggregator, Wolff explains: “We take lots of content and make it short, without ripping of someone’s headline or lead. We take a full story and very carefully reduce it to 65-200 words, using editorial skills. People have a need for shorter, faster information. We have to absorb more. The New York Times is a bore; they write for an older world.”

I agree that there is a need for places to get news fast and as a quick, easily digestible read. But reading long-form journalism is not “a bore” or meant for an “older world” (whatever that means) and far from obsolete. And I am sure, Mr. Wolff, that many of the articles that you reduce are written by these “old-world” journalists.

Want proof that long-form journalism is on the rise? Take as an example the news site ProPublica. Its readers like to read long stories, according to the results of ProPublica’s 2011 Reader Survey. Steve Meyers concludes in Poynter that “ProPublica’s not alone here. Long-form journalism is benefiting from new technologies (the iPad) and Web services (Instapaper, Read It Later), curating services (Longreads, Longform) and products (Kindle Singles, Byliner, The Atavist).”

So, Newser, your days might be numbered. Just skimming the surface is becoming the new bore.

We increasingly chose to read content, not just snippets, online. And tablets are exhilarating that pace. Not only do they entice online readers to read longer articles, but they also have an ever-growing impact on users’ willingness to pay for that content.

On that bright note, Happy New Year!

E-Publishing — A Revolution?

 

Got your Kindle/Nook/iPad? Happy?

I love gadgets. I am usually the first to try out a new electronic thingy. I bought a cell phone when they were still as large as a brick; my first PC was a DOS-based IBM XT computer with a floppy disk slot, a 10 MB hard disk drive and 56 KB of memory. Remember DIR [drive:][path][filename] [/P] [/W] [/A[[:]attributes]] [/O[[:]sortorder]] [/S] [/B] [/L] [/V]? I do. I built my first website when it wasn’t fashionable yet to promote one’s personal brand digitally (and not on a blogging-platform, mind you, where you copy and paste and that’s all there’s to it, but by painstakingly hand-coding.)

But using an e-reader? Hmpff.

I like the printed book too much. I like the smell of books. I like dedications in books, authors’ signatures and the memory where I bought the book or who gave it to me. I like to feel the weight of the book, see exactly how much more there is to go before I’m done, before I snap it shut to give it away; or before I write my name in it and put it on my shelf to re-read, where it awaits its turn next to the colorful spines of many other books. I like hardcover books that have their own sewn-in book mark. I like cheap paperbacks with stains, like the one from the memorable flight to Europe, when my daughter spilled Bloody Mary mix all over my bag. The book still smells like a cocktail shaker. Memories like that. And no e-reader can give me that.

But regardless of my nostalgic digging into old times, I am aware, and at awe, that the e-book revolution has arrived! This might be good news for print media in general. Fascinating.

U.S. e-book sales grew from $3 million in 2005 to $88.7 million in the second quarter of 2010. According to the International Digital Publishing Forum, by the end of the third quarter, it had reached $119.7 million. It’s a phenomenon that redefines the nature of reading itself. We are close to the tipping point of forever changing the publishing industry.

New York Women in Communications recently hosted a fascinating panel that gave a glimpse into what publishing will have in store for us. The panelists included Ray Pearce, vice-president, Circulation & Reader Applications at The New York Times; Lauren Indvik, assistant editor at Mashable.com; Matt DeVirgiliis, e-book manager, Digital Rights & Alliances at McGraw Hill Digital; and Sujata Gosalia, associate partner at Oliver Wyman. The moderator was Tim Carmody, a writer at Snarkmarket.com and the founder of Bookfuturism.com.

Now that the iPad and various simpler e-readers have become the must-have gadgets for the avid reader, Google launched its own cross-platform initiative “Google Editions” or simply Goggle eBooks — a hub for purchasing and accessing more than 3 million e-books on various platforms (computer, mobile, e-reader and tablet), giving consumers a choice where, on what platform they read and at what expense. Their initiative is shaping up to be, according to MediaBeat, “the world’s largest library of titles.”

With Google introducing the new purchasing model, there is no more device-restricted downloading; readers freely share content and read it on any device they own in the “cloud,” or pay for downloads in one centralized marketplace, thus taking control away from the e-reader manufacturers that are still vying to curb the distribution of free content.

“For newspapers, Google is ‘very interesting’,” admits Ray. Still, he says, “we, at the newspaper, decide what we want to keep control of, namely our customer care. We want you as a New York Times reader; we want to know who you are. We want to determine a consistent pricing model, no matter the device you read the newspaper on. We need to structure the payment that meets our needs.” And newspaper content online, after the reader exceeds a pre-set amount of downloads will soon disappear behind a pay wall.

Google’s arrival at the e-publishing forefront, “shows how important search is to finding content,” adds Sujata. “They’re a lot of players to influence what users see first and respond to. Now, the end consumer owns the content and thus takes the power away from the manufacturers of the devices.”

But in the new world of publishing and sharing, who has the rights to the content? “We need to find the happy middle,” says Matt. “Keep your customers and your clients in mind and strike a balance; be also careful to safeguard the content for the author.” Adds Ray: “Publishers start to bundle in packages to meet the customers’ needs, like “buy once — access anywhere” wherever it fits me at the time. Most publishers are on that track.”

The publishing industry is met with a growing consumer demand that content ought to be customized to a specific platform. Reading is not a one-size-fits-all experience any longer; depending on the device, readers expect the content, the level of interaction and the ease of accessibility to change across the various platforms.

The average consumer has now changed dramatically: “When the first e-readers hit the market, about 75% of the average readers were young and female,” says Lauren. “The e-publishing market has grown to a billion readers [worldwide, who access content electronically]. Now, the split is even, with shiny devices preferred by men.” But interestingly, readers who use their iPad to access newspapers use these devices almost as they would use their print newspapers: they tend to use their gadgets early in the morning, in the evening and on weekends. According to Ray, during the day, mobile devices and computers are used more frequently to access The New York Times. “E-readers are in between mobile and computers. And size matters: The e-reader wants to conquer your bag; the mobile wants to conquer your pocket and the iPad wants to sit on your coffee table.”

What’s next in e-publishing? “Screen sizes!” predicts Matt. “TVs will use the same apps that are on your mobile. Everything that’s electronic will soon be talking to each other.” “The line of what is publishing, media and technology will blur and interact,” believes Sujata. “For consumer technology and content creators, this is scary but exciting!”

Book authors will rethink their works to fit a certain digital platform. “The criteria for how to judge a ‘good’ novel will change to ‘is it interactive?’” adds Lauren. “Not only how the book is written but how engaging it is. Authors will rethink what they can do with content to reach more consumers.”

Traditional publishers will have to assess how they produce their content and what kind of interactivity and freedom they want to give the reader. “We still need to understand the brand process and how it is accessed, where and by whom,” says Sujata. “How do we rethink the workflow of content creation, layout and how it looks on the various screens and screen sizes?”

In the end, however, all agreed that there will always be a place for printed books, magazines and newspapers in the world. “Overnight, the idea that you cannot charge for digital content evaporated when it became clear that there is no ad revenue online,” concludes Ray. “Customers now expect to pay for content on their gadgets. No more free for all.”

 

Summer Laziness and Mob Mentality

For this one lone August post, I can blame summer laziness, not media fatigue, even though I have many times come close to just giving up on the state of the media and where we’re headed.

My tagline reads “Old Media and New Media Meet”, and that is sometimes hard to come by. Old and new are still behaving like third graders who compare the size of their ice cream cones. It’s not either-or; neither will get far without the other. So, here is a small list of the positive things that each side will bring to the table. Merging these will lead to better communications, no matter the platform.

Old media bring depth, when needed, tight control over the quality of the writing (editors, copy editors, proof readers), sincere fact checking and an army (or what was once an army) of investigative reporters and writers who know their beat, have the right connections and get out there to cover the news. Oh, yes, and they get paid and have the resources to follow their noses. Old media still adhere mostly to the rule that one needs more than one source to get the story right and that you draw a distinctive line between reporting, commentary and advertising. Old media raise issues that readers are not always aware of, or don’t think they need to know but should.

New media bring immediacy, the collaboration of many to a story, the interaction with the readers, the ability to constantly update and supplement a story with new facts, links, info graphics, audio and video. It is a many-to-many approach, and as such rather democratic: no matter where you are and who you are, your voice is part of the whole. You can decide what you want to read and customize your daily media intake. You become the editor.

I, for one, need both, the old and the new.

Many of us in media, however, see only doom and gloom lurking around us. We’ve lost our jobs, our self-esteem and careers, and our work is being taken for granted by young web editors, who crash with their parents but then tell us our hour’s work of writing should be worth less than what they get babysitting their neighbor’s kid to supplement their own meager income. Now, they say, everyone is a journalist, a photographer, an editor and writer, or so it seems. Content should be free, they beam, and they advise us old timers to be happy to get a byline and a thumbs up on Digg.

I want to share with you a moving blog post from the blog Headlines and Deadlines. The writer muses about her “blogging breakdown” amid the state of old media:

“Lately I haven’t had many thoughts about journalism or newspapers, at least not any that would stand sharing. Because recently, Blog, I have found it increasingly hard to negotiate the choppy waters of ‘changing times’; I have, if you like, lost my compass. I have striven to be optimistic about newspapers and the future but sometimes the words rang very hollow indeed.”

I hear you. But no, it’s not all downhill from here. One way or another, people will come to realize that words and content still matter. They will miss getting lost in a story, once they’re left with only snippets of bullet-pointed search-engine-friendly written content; “voices drowning one another out”, as Jaron Lanier wrote in an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “World Wide Mush.” And he continues: “When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don’t get innovation […] creativity and excellence.”

Admit it, new and social media by themselves are not enough to get the whole picture. Surely you’ve come to the same conclusion, when you got lost in a Google search the other day and ended up spending hours on Facebook before you picked up a magazine or a paper.

I believe, we still have a choice: to become a numb collective with a short attention span, that regurgitates what advertisers, public relations people or celebrities want us to talk about. Or we could merge old media’s values with new media’s possibilities and not get lost in the crowd.

Paid vs. Free in Germany

“While daily newspaper circulation in the United States fell 27 percent from 1998 through 2008, it slipped 19 percent in Germany. While fewer than half of Americans read newspapers, more than 70 percent of Germans do.[…] Instead of focusing on journalism, U.S. newspapers also made unwise investments in new media and compounded the damage by giving away their contents free on the Internet.”

Media News – European Journalism Centre

All Google’s Fault…

This is long, but hey, it’s from The Atlantic. Better print it and read… The old-fashioned way, I suppose. Less eye-strain.This proves that a print piece as is doesn’t really belong on the web, right? Or does it? You be the judge.

“How to Save the News” (…and it’s all Goggle’s fault!): How to Save the News – Magazine – The Atlantic

Bleak Future

“We are going to lose a horrifying amount of experience, judgment, talent and the culture of journalism which has, for the most part, made it a very ethical enterprise. Not only are we losing the accumulated judgment, wisdom, experience, knowledge of tens of thousands of journalists, we are losing their sense of how to stay relatively pure.” Bob Garfield on Future of Journalism | Future of Journalism

Hear, hear.

Where do we go from here, in our unstoppable march toward new journalism and communications 3.0? Become a “tradigital journalist.” Combine the traditional with the digital but apply the same ethical and professional standards. My two cents.

Giving Away Information for Free

“Giving away information for free on the Internet while still charging 50 cents to $1 for the print version of the paper was one of the most fundamentally flawed business decisions of the past 25 years. Newspapers told their paying customers that the information truly had no value. They told their paying customers that they were suckers. Why would anyone pay 50 cents for something he or she can get for free? This poorly conceived and obviously flawed strategy has helped put the newspaper industry into its current financial condition and hastened the demise of many publications.”

Paul MacArthur on future of papers | Future of Journalism

Print to Web Transition: Where’s My Fair Pay?

NYTimes article by Michael Winerip “Keeping The Plates Spinning” (2/19/10) about the transitions from print to web — Quote: “We’re asking more of them, and frankly we’re not paying them more. But they do it, because we’re a team and they’re nice people.”

Not only that: They are looking for writers “who’d be willing to …write, unpaid, in exchange for links to their sites and mentions of their businesses in an accompanying bio.”

Here is another take from Newsosaur, “Stop the Exploitation of Journalists,” urging veteran and aspiring journalists “to stop participating in their own exploitation by working for a pittance – or, worse, giving away their valuable services for free…The reason is simple: If they don’t put a value on what they do, then no one else will either.”

People, when are we finally done with being “nice” and eager for a free byline and demand fair pay for our work?!