Tag Archives: newspapers

The Buffalo News and its Paywall

15 Jun

In a column published online last night, Buffalo News editor-in-chief Margaret Sullivan announced that, beginning in the Fallthe Buffalo News will shunt much of its content behind a paywall. People who don’t subscribe to the print edition will be automatically given a digital subscription, and digital-only subscriptions will cost $2.50/week. If you don’t subscribe, you’ll get access to breaking news, classifieds, obits, “breaking news”, the “home page”, and 10 stories per month, using something similar to the New York Times model. 

I’m not a current subscriber, and haven’t bought a copy of the News in months. But I do check the website at least once a day, but I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll buy a subscription. I think that this change provides a unique opportunity for a free daily news entity to be developed in Buffalo, perhaps along the lines of a model called a “Local Media House“. The model relies on a democratized newsroom, technology, mobile site access, good design, experimentation on the web, and strategic partnerships with other media outlets.  The print product is a tabloid – not a broadsheet – “content is king, and design is queen”, they say in these Scandinavian outlets, which are doing remarkably well in a quickly changing news landscape. 

Is the Buffalo News still relevant to you on a daily basis? Do you subscribe? Do you read it every day, or just when you’re alerted to something interesting or newsworthy? Are any of the columns must-read? Features? Sports? Does the separation between the Buffalo News and Buffalo.com confuse you as much as it does me?  

UPDATE: The details of the paywall are now online, and several Buffalo News Tweeters are out defending this decision. Here are some things to consider: 

1. Author Jeff Jarvis has this to say about the perils of the paywall – the internet is about eyeballs, relationships, interaction, and Googlejuice. A paywall does harm to all of those things and imposes a print model on a digital product. 

2. The price to buy a paper copy of the Buffalo News – an item that has been printed by a state-of-the-art machine, manned by several people, and then bundled onto trucks and distributed throughout the area – costs 75¢. If you are not a subscriber and want one-day, pay-as-you-go, access to a single day of the digital Buffalo News – a product that no one prints or physically delivers – will cost you 99¢. 

3. Here are some selected Twitter reactions: 

[<a href=”http://storify.com/buffalopundit/the-buffalo-news-paywall-early-reax&#8221; target=”_blank”>View the story “The Buffalo News’ Paywall: Early Reax” on Storify</a>]<h1>The Buffalo News’ Paywall: Early Reax</h1><h2>The Buffalo News today announced that it would erect a paywall starting this Fall. Here’s what people on Twitter had to say about it this morning. </h2><p>Storified by Alan Bedenko &middot; Fri, Jun 15 2012 09:50:00</p><div>May sound odd, but I’m looking forward to supporting the paper’s future by paying for online news. @JaySkurski @Sulliview @TheBuffaloNewsMatt Sabuda</div><div>Don’t see myself paying for ANY news online, even if it’s local. http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/margaret-sullivan/article904114.ece #BuffaloPhil Ciallela</div><div>@Sulliview @TheBuffaloNews That is a reposition for abject failure if you think people are going to pay to read that online.boner shorts</div><div>&quot;The Courier Express shall rise from the ashes of The Buffalo News’ post-paywall collapse!&quot; says Jimmy Griffin’s ghost…Thomas Dolina</div><div>RT @capsworth: @BNHarrington @Sulliview @JaySkurski Makes sense. A fair price for a great product. This Buffalo native will be subscribing here in Philly.Mike Harrington</div><div>RT @rachbarnhart: Buffalo News announces paywall http://bit.ly/MbhBMR @sulliview – Don’t reflect fact we get news from multiple sources, can’t pay 5 papersHoward Owens</div><div>I give the Buffalo News pay wall 6 months before its goneChaz Adams</div><div>I am shocked, *shocked* to find that journalism costs money to produce. To think!colindabkowski</div><div>Based on my feed, not too many people happy with the Buffalo News decision to charge for online content.Robert Harding</div><div>Unsurprising: @Sulliview announces paywall for @TheBuffaloNews http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/margaret-sullivan/article904114.eceHoward Owens</div><div>The new Buffalo News digital subscription is going to be even more expensive than The New York Times. Not worth it at half the price.T. Glanowski</div><div>The Buffalo News is dead. Who’s going to pay for digital access to a crap paper? You don’t even get coupons. http://goo.gl/QbXGR #fbJames G. Milles</div><div>In the Buff News today: paid subscriptions to get full web access. The journal is FREE online, subscription or no! http://ow.ly/bBeUbSpringville Journal</div><div>#Buffalo News announces paywall, offers unique opportunity for alternative free online daily. http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/margaret-sullivan/article904114.eceAlan Bedenko</div>

The Buffalo News’ Problems Must Be All Fixed, Now

26 Jun

Donn Esmonde somewhat needlessly picked up where Margaret Sullivan left off last week with respect to the Buffalo News deciding now to treat online reader comments similarly to letters to the editor, with real, verified names. Esmonde pats the Buffalo News on the back for getting rid of what were oftentimes truly awful, reprehensible comments.

I’m sure it took many hours for people at the News to police and delete racist or defamatory comments. Needlessly.

Anyone commenting after an online story—or commenting on another comment—has to use his or her name, verifiable with a phone number. No more hiding behind “MailGuy272”, “NYCGal” or other on-screen masks. Everybody stands behind their words. And everyone has to live with the reactions, criticisms and judgments of other folks in the online forum.

The Wild West days of cyberassaults are over. Hallelujah!

The ugliness wrought by the no-holds-barred forum bothered me and a lot of my colleagues. It upset people whose names appeared in articles and were unfairly attacked. Readers I heard from were disgusted by descents into gutter-level discourse.

All columnists and reporters at this newspaper puts their name behind their words. I think it is only fair that anyone reacting to their writing does the same.

Time and again, I have seen anonymity— whether in a blog or a letter or a phone call—bring out the worst in human nature. When someone calls and starts pounding on me for something I write, I ask for a name. If I do not get it, the conversation is over. If I do, the conversation— nearly every time—rises to a higher level.

Well, who the hell asked the Buffalo News to permit comments on regular News stories in the first place? The New York Times doesn’t allow you to post comments to stories that appear in the paper – only to some stories, and some posts on its various blogs, like City Room. Instead, the Times has a bar across the top where it’s set up its own micro-social-networking site called TimesPeople, enabling you to recommend stories to people you’ve friended there, and also to post links to stories with your comments to Twitter, Facebook, and other existing social networking platforms. (You can follow me on TimesPeople here.)

In addition, every single comment posted to City Room and other Times Blogs has gone through pre-moderation. While the Times doesn’t require real names, it vets every comment before it’s seen by others.

In other words, the Buffalo News is doing it wrong.

Is the News truly shocked that people cloaked in anonymity will say stupid things? Does the News really think that slapping a commenting system to its online presence makes all done its leap into the 21st century?

No one asked for, nor needs, the ability to post a comment to the News’ site about routine News stories. Columns and opinion pieces? Sure, that would make sense, since people might want to express divergent opinions. And in those cases, the news can moderate each comment prior to posting.

The main point gets somewhat lost amidst Esmonde’s wordy sanctimony, but he calls out anonymity as the main culprit. It can be summed up as: those internet people!

Anonymity, pseudonyms, noms de plume – they’re all longstanding traditions in internet discussions, going way back to the free-wheeling days of usenet newsgroups. It moved on to blogs where writers assumed online identities like “Atrios”, “Calpundit”, “Kos”, “Allahpundit”, and reader/commenters did the same.

The reasons for anonymity? Yes, they allowed people to say things they may not otherwise dare say – but while that lets racist morons write racist garbage, it also allows insiders, officials, involved parties to provide important and sometimes delicate insight into issues that they may not feel free to provide if they had to use their real names. It’s happened quite often on my blog and others.

The Buffalo News presumably has no prohibition against its journalists providing anonymity to sources for stories. In fact, it does so quite routinely, as do all responsible journalists. Yet that practice runs the risk that stories sometimes won’t get pursued to their fullest extent so that the writers can preserve and protect their sources, and access to them.

It’s so patently evident that the Buffalo News has absolutely no clue how to manage its online presence. It’s lost many top-notch, veteran journalists over the past several years through buyouts and early retirement. Its circulation is down, and its longtime monopoly over civic information, opinion, and discussion has long gone. The News has no plan or strategy for survival in a world where it’s forced to compete not just with one other paper, but with slews of internet sites devoted to news and ideas in the WNY region. It tries to do what the blogs and social media sites do, but for the most part it’s clear that they’re doing it in a slapdash manner – it’s an afterthought. I’m told that the sports blogs at the News are quite excellent, but on the political news side the only one that has any relevance or influence is Jim Heaney’s Outrages & Insights, which has been on hiatus for a few months due to a tragic accident.

And because Heaney expresses opinion along with his information on his blog, it makes perfect sense to permit comments there.

If it hasn’t already happened, the day will come soon where more people will obtain news about Buffalo and WNY on a device, rather than through reading a newspaper. The iPad alone should be a massive wake-up call for newspapers throughout the country.

The Buffalo News loves anonymity, except when it’s employed by the masses. The Buffalo News has to come to peace with the fact that the internet exists, and that it operates differently from the Newspaper business, and it needs to do more adapting, and less grampa-doesn’t-like-the-rock-and-roll-music.

Reinventing The Newsroom

12 Nov


“Newspapers have a terrible future.” – Warren Buffett, Owner of The Buffalo News, 11/3/2009

Yes, yes they do.  The finer point here is that journalism has an incredibly bright future.

The problem, as I see it, is that newspapers and the corporations that own them are risk-averse creatures.  They are not looking to revolutionize what they do as there are too many people in their employ and too many investors to satisfy.  Innovation rarely, if ever, comes from industry stalwarts.  It emerges when a market opportunity presents itself to an entrepreneur who has the capital and ability to take risks.

As it stands, circulation numbers for The Buffalo News are down again, but they have added a new revenue stream to the corporation as they are now the local printer for The New York Times.

“The Times deal is another example of how we are diversifying our business,” News’ senior vice president of marketing, Dottie Gallagher-Cohen said.

Well, kind of, but not really.  That’s like Chrysler saying they are diversifying their struggling automobile business by also making automobiles.  Diversifying the business would be expanding into a new market vertical or innovating with a new product.  However, this represents a key problem with the survival of newspapers.  They aren’t willing to expand the business footprint in any way that would put their primary revenue stream at risk.  I can’t blame them, I see the bottom line thinking which promotes that logic, I really do.

However, those in charge conflate the medium with the media.  They are unable or unwilling to envision or plan for a future in which the news of the day is not printed on paper and taken to to the reader.  What has happened in the last several years is that consumers have essentially said that the value they derive from the product at .75 per copy is not worth their daily investment.  It’s a rebuke of the business model, not necessarily of the content.  Well, it’s not a rebuke of the quality content, but it’s a rebuke of the extraneous content like stock price listings, classified ads, feature fluff found on other local outlets and AP Wire stories.

So, what is a newspaper like The Buffalo News to do?  After all, they are the paper of record in a one newspaper town and have the luxury to experiment with new models unlike their debt-laden brethren in other cities.

Well, since no one asked and I’ve spent the better part of the last year writing about it, I’ll tell you exactly what they can do.  Also, they better hurry up and try or some new media outlet might finally get access to the necessary capital and do it on their own…wink/wink, nudge/nudge

The Buffalo News should stop dithering about with pointless add-on, out of the box social networks like the KickApps fueled MyBuffalo.com and their vertical content network featuring cars and brides and other things that aren’t journalism.  I mean, why not just sell funny hats as an additional revenue stream?  It makes about as much sense as attaching these niche sites to your media outlet.

Spin off a hyperlocal, open source journalism site, let’s call it WNYNow.com for the sake of argument.  Assign an editor, a multimedia editor, a web design staff, videographers, 5-7 writers and a couple of photographers who will only work on the site.  Starting a separate business entity allows it to operate free from the arcane union rules and also allows for market based salaries and tighter cost controls.  The content is only available online and aside from advertising or marketing in the print edition, these two entities will operate separately and independently.

For enterprise or investigative pieces, allow the writers to pitch stories not to the editors, but to the readership.  They should report their story openly, asking for assistance and feedback from the readers as each story develops.  Ultimately, the readers have an ownership stake in the story and turn into advocates for your content.  They amplify your stories using social media and become ambassadors.

For day to day reporting, the editor and writers post an open calendar of events, meetings and press events that can be covered.  Ask the readers to assign a priority level and assign your staff accordingly.  They get to have a voice in the editorial assignments and are also engaged as they become part of the news process.  Utilize relationships with existing alternative media outlets in town to aggregate their coverage/content and curate the good information into a larger, co-operative piece of multimedia journalism.

You’ll build a loyal community of readers and you will know who they are, what they like, where they live and what their interests are.  You have a valuable community into which you are now able to sell access.  That’s where you begin to monetize.

As the community around your online outlet grows and traffic increases, you begin to reduce the number of pages you print in the daily paper.  As you continue the process, print reporters from the newspaper either retire, go elsewhere, or accept a non-union contract to work for the online outlet.  Eventually, the output flips and you’re printing a newspaper just a couple times each week or even just once per week while your daily reporting functions have moved online.  Profit margins will eventually grow online as the cost of provisioning the news decreases significantly since you no longer need to procure paper and ink.  You can also generate revenue from your existing print assets as you can continue to run a specialty print shop for other clients.

In short, open up the process and build a community around your core product…journalism.  After all, newspapers and journalism are two separate things and as newspapers die, the transition to online media is not an evolution, it’s a revolution.  Plan accordingly.

I know I am.

On the Death of Traditional Newspapers

26 Aug

Anyone interested in the death of the American newspaper will enjoy this panel discussion from Netroots Nation 2009 featuring a particularly lively discussion between NYU Professor Jay Rosen, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Michael A. Fuoco.

People at the Buffalo News should take especial note of this back and forth.


So Ya Had a Bad Day 

4 May

When Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Bufett says that newspapers have “no future”, and when asked if he’d buy any newspapers, he embellishes his simple “no” with,

“For most newspapers in the United States, we would not buy them at any price … they have the possibility of going to just unending losses.”

…if you work for the Buffalo News, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, you’re having a bad day.

Reinventing The Newsroom

23 Mar


In an editorial in The Buffalo News yesterday, Margaret Sullivan laid out the reasons why her newspaper is doing just fine, thank you very much.

1. We’re making a profit. The decline in advertising revenue is significant—and likely to get worse— but we’re still in the black and planning to stay that way.

2. We have none of the crippling debt that many newspaper owners are carrying. Many of those debt-heavy papers would be making money if it weren’t for their debt load.

3. We have extraordinarily high acceptance among local residents. The News, as a print newspaper, has the highest “market penetration” among the 50 or so largest metropolitan dailies in the United States.

4. Our Web site is the leading local media Web site, by far, in Western New York. When you combine the Web site and the newspaper, we’re reaching 80 percent of Western New Yorkers on a regular basis.

Well, I’m glad that’s solved.  Let’s just move along…clearly, there is nothing to see here.  Right?  Well, not really.  The trending indicators in daily print journalism are not positive and The Buffalo News is reconciling the cost of an enterprise news gathering operation with the increasing cost of the primary delivery medium.  While more and more readers become online customers, The Buffalo News struggles to charge as much for online ads as they do for the print edition.  This causes cuts in the news and support divisions to sustain the printing operation.  It’s a pretty interesting business problem and one I’ll delve into more deeply in the coming weeks.

However, the most interesting piece in Sullivan’s column and one that had nothing to do with the legacy cost structures which are strangling the newspaper was this:

Tomorrow, I’ll convene the first meeting of what I’m calling the “Reinventing the Newsroom” committee. When I asked for volunteers from the staff, I was overwhelmed with the response.

Together, we’re going to figure out how to move forward with greater challenges and fewer people in the brave new world of Internet-era newspapering, and how best to make ourselves indispensable to you, our readers.

She still doesn’t get it.  Revolution as defined by Marx is when the means of production change hands.  We no longer need people in the newsroom to define our experience.  We no longer need the news to be our primary link to the power structures of our society.  We can do that ourselves, news production is now a two way street.  The Buffalo News needs to expand the “Reinventing The Newsroom” team to include community stakeholders, academics, journalism students, bloggers and readers.  They need to craft a future product that reflects our wants and needs, not a product that is designed from the top down.

Until Sullivan understands this very basic principle of the new media universe in which she now finds herself, there really is a ticking clock on the relevance and existence of her newspaper.  Her fundamental misunderstanding of this concept is evident in the final sentence of her column:

Newspaper journalism protects our freedoms and guards our way of life. We intend to make sure it’s around, in Western New York, for a long time.

She’s conflating the medium of a printed newspaper with the content therein.  The paper it is printed on is not the value provided to the community and deciding what delivery method scales economically and sustains a quality enterprise news outlet is now the fundamental challenge.

The Problem with Journalism? Reporters

22 Mar


In recent months, there have been thousands of polemics, articles, blog posts, panel discussions and seminars around America to discuss the future of newspapers and where we as a country will find ourselves when they eventually shed their current construct.  Well, let me add another blog post to the funeral pyre.  This will be the first in a series over the next couple of weeks as I decided to cut up what turned out to be a 10,000 word treatise into smaller chunks and gather feedback as I go along.

The other day, I was looking for the phone number of a friend who works at The Buffalo News and eventually came across his business card.  Looking at his card, a simple truth slapped me in the face.  His title?  Staff Reporter.  Well, that’s rather the problem, isn’t it?

Merriam Webster defines the word “reporter” thusly:

A person who makes a shorthand record of a speech or proceeding. A person employed by a newspaper to gather and report news.

In a world in which the means of news production is now shared amongst millions, is it the job of newspapers and the writers who work there to report on anything when it’s intended to be read in the print edition of a newspaper?  Throughout the twentieth century, newspapers were how people learned of the daily events.  They functioned as the “paper of record”, loosely defined as “if we didn’t print it, it didn’t happen”.  Well, a revolution happened while the editors were sleeping.

The problem with newspapers is that we don’t need journalists to report, we need them to investigate.  Reporting is a crowdsourced function done by millions of bloggers and TV/Radio reporters.  There is little value in waiting for The Buffalo News to show up on my doorstep 18-24 hours after something happened with a basic 5 W rundown of an event or news item.  I’ve already read it online, watched the pundits opine on it, heard talk show hosts dissect it and personally synthesized it by the time the ink is dry on the newsprint.  Much of what I get in the daily paper are reprints of AP wire stories and articles featuring content I’ve already consumed in various other medium.  What’s the added value?

I’m not breaking any new ground here, but I do think I have an idea for how newspapers shall remain relevant.

Stop reporting and start investigating.

For example, The Buffalo News demonstrated their value as an establishmnet news outlet after the crash of Flight 3407.  Not by their on-the-scene reporting in the hours immediately following the crash, but in their long tail stories that emerged in the weeks that followed.  Their investigation into the flight training of the pilots, the safety record of the airline, history of turboprop aircraft in bad weather, etc.  They took the mighty resources available to a multi-million dollar news enterprise and gave us information we would not have gotten from any other source.  The on-the-scene reporting and press conference recaps were handled by TV, radio and online outlets like ours.  Wasting ink on them in the paper was pointless.

If a newspaper isn’t going to fill its pages with wire content and daily reporting on the events of the previous day, what will it look like?  It will look a lot like it does today, just smaller and less frequently delivered.  A newspaper that comes out 3-4 times per week in a smaller format, perhaps tabloid size and features original content, features and investigative pieces.  If you’re thinking that a lot of things have to change in order to get there, you’re right.

The economics of production and distribution need to change drastically.  No longer will The Buffalo News be able to support a large news division with dozens of staff reporters.  They will need to re-size the enterprise in order to get in line with a new distribution model.  Compensation structures, advertising rates and multimedia web content are all issues that will have to be re-examined and the newspaper will need to look to their community writ large as their assignment editors.  What do the people want to know?  What do the people want to read?  What type of content will induce a person to buy a newspaper that is published thrice weekly?  No longer will editors sit in a room and decide from on high what content will grace the pages of their newspaper.  They will be forced to respond to the needs of their community, after all, we no longer need the newspaper to provide a lifeline to institutions of power, newspapers need us to make them credible in the face of those institutions.  And that shift is what defines the revolution.

Next up:  How newspapers can capitalize on the web.

A Sad but True Haw Haw

2 Mar

Nelson Muntz comments on the state of the newspaper business: