On the move: From TheMediaBriefing to BuzzFeed

*Cough* *splutter* … Is this thing on?

It’s shame when personal blogs become repositories for personal life announcements and not much else. However, that’s exactly what this site has become.

After three years with TheMediaBriefing, from when it started to now, I’m leaving the company and joining BuzzFeed UK as media editor, working in the London office (don’t bury the lead, this is a good start).

I’ve written about the some of TMB’s achievements to date over on the site this morning and it has been quite a journey to get to this point. It’s silly that I used to write about product development and business strategy without actually having ever done any. One of the big benefits of B2B media companies is they tend to be smaller and more focused and there are lots of opportunities to get involved in all sorts of areas of the business.

I’m as proud of the achievements with TMB as anything I’ve done. However I’ve been a reporter/editor on the media beat in B2B publishing for seven years, so now feels like the time to move on and do something different.

And why BuzzFeed? Put simply, it’s a huge and enjoyable challenge to make content for a much larger audience, in the context of entertaining and informing. “Isn’t it just all pictures of cats?” you may say, to which I’d reply, “it’s not just cats, it’s hedgehogs too.”

Nothing could ever come close to being as cute as this hedgehog.

Or as editor-in-chief Ben Smith put it:

There is a lot of good stuff to read and watch on BuzzFeed – both long and short-form – on all manner of things. Jonah Peretti’s recent memo to staff is a good snapshot of where the business is and what it wants to achieve, but I was drawn to this bit:

The world needs sustainable, profitable, vibrant content companies staffed by dedicated professionals; especially content for people that grew up on the web, whose entertainment and news interests are largely neglected by television and newspapers.

So, hoping to use this as an excuse to get together and reconnect with lots of people across the industry before I make a move…


p.s. The award for the longest gap between blog posts goes to Faith No More, with 11 years, so I guess my 1.5 years isn’t that bad in comparison.

Experimenting with Google+ hangouts – live, interactive broadcast conversations

Google 的貼牌冰箱(Google refrigerator)

(Photo credit: Aray Chen)

Spending time on Google+ is sometimes a lonely thing. It’s the one-handed clap of the social media platforms.

But it has 170 million users who have “upgraded” their Google accounts and countless millions who may yet do so. But the potential for it as a platform is vast and there are good reasons professional and non-professional media organisations should take it seriously.

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Our new office and the importance of location in business

The view from Mermaid House, Briefing Media's HQ

When I’m out and about and chatting to people I get two questions: who do you work for?, shortly followed by where is your office?

The eternal obsession with the physical location of businesses has not receded with the digital age. Much like how my six-year-old cousin likes to ask everyone “where do you live?” it seems what you do is not nearly as immediately interesting as where you do it.

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Entrepreneurial journalism at City University – the next generation’s ideas

Angry Birds

Angry Birds: not a bad business model

One thing the news and media industry needs is new ideas for making money – so that people can launch their own businesses or help existing ones do better.

Which is why the conversation surrounding entrepreneurial journalism is such a healthy one. Pioneered by the likes of Jeff Jarvis at his City University of New York course, the trend is spreading in the UK – with London’s City University, where I’m a visiting lecturer, running its own EJ course for postgraduates this year.

Tonight was the open evening for students to showcase their ideas for viable startups to a selection of industry folk and I was invited to come along and critique their proposals. There was a quite a range on show – from mobile apps with an ecommerce model (getting in on the social, local, mobile trend), a pro-amateur video agency and a fully formed customer publishing idea with a real-life client already interested in the context. It would be unfair to give more away about the ideas with them being so early in their gestation.

But when asked for me advice, this is broadly what I said:

  • Renewable revenues: It’s fine to sell an iPhone app – Angry Birds does OK from it, as do lots of others. But for content-based apps it’s not quite so easy to make a living from one-off payments, especially for new launches. For publishers, the key is to have renewable revenues – things that can give investors and creditors an idea of visibility, which is when a business can see how much revenue it will make in the future. Subscriptions can work very well – but they take a huge investment in marketing to ensure customer acquisition and renewal. This is why events have grown so fast in the consumer and B2B sectors: they are highly renewable and give unparalleled visibility.
  • Scalability: One shop in a high street might make a profit, but 10 shops in 10 high streets across the region will make far more and at a better profit margin – the same is true of online publishing. Some of the students had formulated very interesting ideas for apps and sites that might work in a specific sector – but few had made the ambitious step of thinking about launching it into adjacent sectors or industries, so to benefit from economies of scale.
  • Understand your market: A good question to ask about your business is: what’s the total audience and what’s happening to it? One group I spoke to were targeting a specific sector of higher education that is in fact shrinking year on year. That doesn’t bode well for your profit growth. That’s why so many media businesses are keen to invest in emerging markets where growth is so much higher than the UK, which is a mature, developed market. That same group with the shrinking sector could, however, use the technology they want to develop to launch into many different sectors. Which ones have the most growth?
  • Vendor relationships: It’s vital to think of the user and how he or she will use the product but – especially if something hopes to be funded by advertising – the relationship with vendors, or advertisers, is just as important. So much of the ad agency world is driven by personal ties and relationships as well as price and audience. Particularly where students had thought of an agency model, selling to a media organisation mostly, they hadn’t thought through enough what that pitch would be.
  • It’s not about news: What I found very  interesting and a real sign of the times is that not one group I spoke to based their startup idea on news creation (although a couple suggested they would aggregate and curate it). If no one in the next generation thinks they will get rich by doing news, that says very much the industry today.

But all in all it was a great event and I was genuinely impressed by the ingenuity and business sense the students had. It’s not patronising to say that at least a couple of the ideas could well see the light of day and certainly hope that one day they do. I’m sure City will be running the course again next year and I’ll be interested in seeing where it – and its alumni – go from here.

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Investigating the economics of local newspapers

Deutsch: Karte der Verwaltungsgliederung des V...

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There is a grim certainty that the existence of local and regional newspapers are under threat in the UK and other developed economies. There are no shortage of articles from commentators saying this is generally a bad thing. Northcliffe’s East Kent Gazette is the latest in a long line of closures.

But what are the realities of this situation? Are papers really all doomed? What’s the minimum overheads and revenue you’d need to keep a title going, whether online or in print? Are papers better off in large PLC ownership or should they,  as many have argued recently, return to local, independent ownership? Can’t they exist as online-only titles?

I’m putting together an article (possibly a series) for TheMediaBriefing.com that asks all these questions – but I need some evidence and in the spirit of open, networked investigations, I’m asking for your help:

– If anyone has any information, data or figures on how their local newspaper is run as a business, please get in touch. I’m interested in costs and income. Anonymity and discretion are assured – I won’t necessarily mention the title nor the company. (For the time being I’m just looking at the UK situation).

– Views, opinions and ideas on how to make local and regional papers into viable businesses are very welcome. Think about business models – aside from paper ad sales and coverprice, what could business managers do to build genuine, renewable and reliable revenue streams?

I’ve been gathering some figures so far on this and the results are very revealing – some titles are making healthy profits and have small costs, for example. I don’t think the world needs another “isn’t it sad” style blog post from anyone on this – I’m more interested in data, evidence and what might happen next.

Email me on patrick dot smith at briefingmedia.com or call on 07904587050.

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On probability, statistics and journalism

heredity and cancer, breast cancer, inherited ...

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This should pose a good teaser for any working reporter and news editor who uses percentages of chance on a day-to-day basis.

If a woman is given a positive screening result after a mammogram, which is bad, what is the probability that she does not have cancer?

Answer: 91 percent.

Why is this? Cambridge University professor David Spiegelhalter explains in the September UK edition of Wired (emphasis is mine):

Mammography correctly classifies around 90 percent of women who go for breast-cancer screening. So when a middle-aged woman is told she has a positive test result, what’s the probability she doesn’t have cancer? The answer, which is surprising to most people, is around 91 per cent. The crucial missing piece of information is the size of her background risk.

So suppose she is from a population in which around one in 100 have breast cancer. Then, out of 100 such women tested, one would have breast cancer and will most likely test positive. But of the 99 who do not have breast cancer, we would still expect around ten to test positive — as the test is only 90 percent accurate. That makes 11 positive tests, only one of which involves cancer, which gives a 10/11 = 91 percent probability that someone who tests positive does not have breast cancer.

Spiegelhalter writes that this is difficult to understand because it is difficult to understand: probability doesn’t make sense, nor follow the rule of logic we think govern our lives and the outcomes of decisions.

But he also correctly identifies a flaw in news reporting where the numerator – the amount of things - is enthusiastically reported, without mentioning the amount of times the event could have happened, the denominator.

So the amount of health scare stories (mentioning no names) that are perpetually reported – invariably from unpublished, unreviewed studies and promoted by PR officers – are lacking in context and thus utterly misleading.  Ben Goldacre has been making this point for years.

Health scare stories may be right to mention that while the relative risk of, for example, getting cancer from drinking/not drinking red wine/eating peanuts/reading the Daily Mail may be increased or decreased. But the absolute risk may be statistically unchanged – when a person is considered as part of a wider population, not just the 1,000 or so that took part in the study.

News naturally focuses on the unlikely and the shocking – it would be boring otherwise. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be misleading.

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Thoughts on LinkedIn groups for media brands

This is icon for social networking website. Th...

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LinkedIn has certainly grown in importance for me in the past year since TheMediaBriefing.com started.

We run a group now running at just under 500 members and it’s been very rewarding to have started some interesting discussions, that have fed into and inspired articles on TMB and hopefully proved useful to people in our community. Here are some entirely unscientific thoughts based on what I’ve learned and also what I see from other groups from media brands:

  • Saying ‘what do you think?’ isn’t always enough to get a discussion going. Often people will say to themselves “er, I don’t think anything” and move on to answering emails. If you ask a  specific questions, it might result in some specific answers. Rory asked people what advice they’d give a younger version of themselves – the title of an article he did for the site – and 25 comments later the thread is still going (my favourite tip: “Go into investment banking”).
  • Shovelware can be useful, but not always. We added the LinkedIn sharing buttons to every page on TheMediaBriefing, which is a good way for readers to add a story to their professional network. Some posts are shared more than 20 times, which for a professional B2B brand like TMB means our articles are being seen by 100s of senior media people – our core target audience. Increasingly, LinkedIn is being used a content discovery platform. But, adding a link to the group using the button only starts a discussion - it doesn’t develop it. Plus, the automated way LinkedIn’s API presents button-fed links looks automated and a bit inhuman. It doesn’t look like part of a lively community.
  • Posts with more comments get more comments: the first thing people see when they log in to the group are the “Most popular”, “Latest updates” and “Managers’ choice”. As with news articles, people drop into the discussions with lots of comments and are far more likely to add their thoughts when people (particularly people they know) have already said something. Not many people like to be the first to say something.
  • Be tough but fair on self-promoters: It’s only a matter of time after starting a LinkedIn group before someone posts a link promoting their site or product. We even get people linking to their own discussions elsewhere. There’s an easy way to deal with this: “Mark as promotion”. This takes the link into the promotions section and out of the main discussion list. I’m more than happy for people to start a thread on something and link to themselves if appropriate (TMB likes linking in a big way, of course), but it has to be a discussion, not just a link-dumping, traffic-boosting exercise. Some marketers do this on an automated basis, incidentally.
I’d be very interested to hear any tips or advice anyone else has, or links to guides that are worth reading.
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What Spinal Tap can tell you about product management

Stonehenge at sunset on a cloudy day.

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One thing they certainly don’t teach in journalism schools is digital product management. But it’s one of the things that people who came through print publishing careers into the online world are increasingly being asked to get to grips with.

Working on TheMediaBriefing.com has certainly been a learning curve – we’re working now with partners at Idio to redevelop the main site and we already have (what I think) is a nifty mobile-optimised site. It’s going to have an improved user interface and more things people can do on the site – with more of an emphasis on our original content, while highlighting the usefulness of our curated links.

There have been all sorts of useful posts and resources that can help with this kind of thing, such as this from the AOP.

But I keep thinking of a particular scene in Spinal Tap. Guitarist David St Hubbins has requested a life-size model of Stonehenge to accompany a particularly overblown performance of Tap’s epic song of the same name. Hastily he scribbles an outline with ” 18′ ” on a napkin and hands it to his manager. Of course, he should have wrote 18′, meaning 18 feet, instead of 18 inches. The finished product is not very impressive (embedding disabled, annoyingly).

The first time the band see the finished product is when it’s lowered onto the stage as part of a big finale:

Are you sure your developers know what you want the final product to look like? The right kind of communication is obviously key here.

On a slightly more serious note, you may be interested in this article and video from the AOP’s product management forum in from December.

Update: Still on a rock theme, any graphic designers will enjoy this jaunty Dio-era Sabbath style song, summing up much of what clients ever ask designers to do: Make the logo bigger!

p.s. TheMediaBriefing is having a party in London on 27th September – all welcome. Sign up to our Meetup group for more details as they’re announced.

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#SIPAUK2011: Links and slides from my presentation on journalism, aggregation and curation

Today I’m speaking at the Specialised Information Publishers’ Association’s UK conference on a breakout session on digital tools for editors and publishers, in a session with my erstwhile colleague Martin Stabe, now an interactive producer at FT.com.

To sum it up very briefly, I was talking about curation, aggregation and the importance of transparency in online publishing.

Here are some of the links that I mentioned during the talk:

  • Ben Goldacre on why he doesn’t trust journalists that don’t link to primary sources (here, here)
  • Benoît Raphaël  of Owni.fr on the “Google newsroom”  - decentralising news production from a physical location and using free online tools to innovatively track trends, write analysis and use the wisdom of your audience.
  • Journal Register CEO John Paton’s excellent post of his excellent presentation at the WAN-IFRA Summit in Zurich last month. He really did reinvent the newsroom, the products and the business by putting online first and went from bankruptcy to profit by doing so. No gimmicks – he took costs out of the business, stuck print journalists’ ego with a big fork and focused on what matters.
  • Adam Tinworth on why there can be no special pleading of “our audience doesn’t get social media”.
And here are the slides:
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A week is a long time in media


Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The last seven days have not been dull.

With the UK launch of Huffington Post utterly overshadowed by the on-going crisis (for once, this word is justified) at News Corporation, it’s one of those weeks where stories normally found on the media/business pages rocket their way to the front pages and the top of broadcast bulletins.

I wrote a few things on this:

– Phone hacking, journalism, transparency and why the readers are gaining power over brands - for TheMediaBriefing.com

– News of the World closure underlines Murdoch’s desperate objective: acquire Sky at all costs - also on TMB, and

– Why we’ll miss the ‘Screws’, for CNN.com, where I try to say something positive – or at least somehow balanced – about a newspaper which did have a proud tradition of investigations and exposure.

Also check out Journalism.co.uk’s podcast last week on the launch of HuffPo in the UK, featuring me blathering on about why I think it’s an exciting business model and why I’m not particularly outraged by the idea of people voluntarily writing for the site without being paid.

As I say on the pod, people write for a variety of reasons that don’t involve money. It’s interesting that the J.co.uk people actually went out and found some bloggers who are more than happy to contribute on an irregular basis. As so often happens, @Adders makes this point far better than I could.

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