05/19/14

NYT, AOL, Small Business and Digital Publishing Part 2

So yeah, I didn’t really take a nap.

The last reader
Flickr image courtesy of Armando G Alonso

But I did let my brain breathe for a second. The last thing I want to happen is to raise a bunch of questions and then never propose any solutions.

When we left off, I was talking about how we as readers literally shape the news. It’s yet another fascinating aspect of the news as profit center.

Television news, even with its much shorter cycle, simply cannot afford to ignore a story that the masses cry out for coverage on. Even if it’s three weeks old, takes place in Africa, and is on a grim topic like the kidnapping and sexual enslavement of teenage girls.

We’ve witnessed our ability to move that needle, to unite our voices and force the hand of companies with budgets the size of small countries.

What will we do with it? How can small business tap into our often intimate knowledge of what people want to know?

If it bleeds breeds causes people to want to breed, it leads

Because some of us also/only care if Miley Cyrus is sticking her tongue out so far that it touches her boob.

I’m not one of those people.

But just as people who could give two craps about news that isn’t happening in their country, must sit and suffer through what I want covered, so must I endure what they observe to be news.

Sure, either party could make arrangements to be elsewhere while the actual story is being told. But if you don’t read the headlines, you won’t find any news at all.

So we’re at minimum aware of the news items that run alongside the ones we have the most interest in.

I’ve complained to the CNN handle about what I see as the fluffication of their channel on more than one occasion. Just talking to myself really- I expect to be lost in a sea of voices, but it somehow makes me feel better to go on record somewhere.

And I’m surprised, every time, about the push back I get from other Twitter users when I suggest that CNN should be covering serious stories rather than entertainment.

They have a point. I don’t get to decide what news is for everyone. My memory of better news coverage is at least partly nostalgia. Maybe I’m a dinosaur.

Perhaps this is the future.

Small business publishing and the merits of Most vs Best vs First

And I wonder where that leaves us, the small business owners, soon to all have departments dedicated to publishing content for marketing, that may mimic local news rooms or small imprint non-fiction publishers.

At some point, we too will have to balance high quality in-depth coverage with the entertainment that puts the maximum number of butts in seats, and erect distribution channels within each network we have access to, in order to be sure that our words spread to the places they are meant to go.

So what’s the answer for the small publisher?

Should we print the most? AOL’s reporters were supposed to release several stories a day.

It took me two hours to type this story as it came to me, never minding the research it was borne out of, verifying links and finding art. If I had to do four or eight of these today?

Leaves less time for quality checks and the like.

Should we print the best?

I have two businesses, three business blogs, and at least four regular publications where I write as staff. Oh yes, and clients. And a new product line.

I can’t do my best every week as one person.

Forget about being first too. One has to sleep, and you need eyes on 24/2 if you plan on being Maggie McScooperson all the time.

Much as I’d love to bottom line it, choosing one over the other won’t do it anyway, even in some world with unlimited staff, user generated content and time stretching out into eons.

If everything becomes fluff, no one will read/watch anything.

If everything is super deep/serious, we’ll be fighting on the front of subject or length fatigue – people will pick One thing to read and go have a nap.

Competition would be Ridiculous.

And getting the story first is not always getting the story right. Your audience is only going to be up for one retraction- especially if it costs them money- before they abandon you.

Things for small business owners to ponder as these trends hit, crest or wane

Every small business has information to dispense. It could range from a feel-good story that we hope ends up in mainstream coverage somewhere to just wanting our deck to be popular on Slideshare in order to reach a wider audience than the one we have.

In light of this, we must decide where we’re going to draw the line in the sand on several fronts.

The AOL Question – How much are we willing to behave like major publications in order to get more attention, to  more of our stories read or watched?

The NYT Question – How much quality are we willing to sacrifice for more coverage? What is being the best worth if we’re losing market share to achieve pinnacle status? Should we start shipping our content on software-like schedules?

The Empowered Consumer issue – On an ongoing basis, consumers are realizing how powerful they are, as are small business owners as a result. In the purest sense, people don’t need companies to survive, companies need people.

How much do we need to grow and change to suit their whims, and how do we balance that with things like thought leadership?

Time and Resource factors – I’ve written in the past about how to speed up content marketing. Obviously as we realize how much more often we need to publish during growth periods, we have to start thinking about who is going to do all this work and how.

For further study:

Here’s a direct link to AOL’s Master plan from 2011. Remember, this was in 2011. It may have affected everything from Google’s algorithm to the birth of sites like Buzzfeed.

The more you read it, the more you’ll see how this document has shaped the web in the past few years.

Here’s a link to the series I did on Content Marketing productivity, featuring a video summary.

Below is an embed of the leaked New York Times document on Innovation, from the source where I first saw it leaked, which has some pretty great coverage of its own. At some point, I’d read that cover to cover, despite it being 97 pages. If you’re short on time, start on page 22 in the section marked “Growing Our Audience“.

Remarkably, it’s not just a document proposing the AOL way for 2014.

The New York Times looks carefully at its strengths, and looks at a few ways to leverage content it already has:

  • to be a comprehensive, library-like tool,
  • organizational issues
  • repackaging content,
  • Follow buttons for stories,
  • content promotion problems
  • how to keep from being crushed by the restructuring of content by competitors.

You get the sense that they are really taking an honest look at themselves from the perspective of figuring out how not to die.

As I read I thought about what I’d do if my industry or company seemed to be on its last legs, and I had nothing to lose by going for broke to save it. Try it – it’s amazing the lessons you can learn from desperation, particularly when you’re not actually in that position.

My team came up with a lot of “wait, why aren’t we doing that?” epiphanies. I wish you the same.

 

 

The Full New York Times Innovation Report