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January 16, 2015

Local Fix: On Profits and Podcasts, Startups and Sustainability, and Third Party Platforms

Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea… 

One Good Idea: Write better headlines. Maria Konnikova reports on new research that shows headlines have a huge effect on readers’ perception and retention of articles. “It’s not always easy to be both interesting and accurate,” she concludes, “but, as Ecker’s study shows, it’s better than being exciting and wrong.”

From Startup to Sustainability

This fall I got hooked on Alex Blumberg’s podcast Startup, which he describes as “A series about what happens when someone who knows nothing about business starts one.” That could describe a lot of great journalists who are launching or leading news startups. Blumberg gives a fairly ubvarnished look at his process and there is a lot of lessons for anyone working to build sustainable media organizations. On her blog Sarah Marshall offers 10 very concrete and useful lessons in what she calls “lean journalism” from her time as tech editor at Journalism.co.uk.

I wrote earlier about Philly Gun Crisis ending daily publication. NiemanLab has a deep dive into “Why Philadelphia’s Gun Crisis Reporting Project couldn’t make it” with some frank reflections on priorities and sustainability from founder Jim MacMillan. At the end of last year John Battelle gave his prescription for “What Media Must Do To Survive” – which for him comes down to “convening power.” Does a publication bring together a community of people who depend on it?

A Few Useful Year End Lists

With the end of the year comes a flurry of lists. I’ve reviewed more of these lists than I’d like to admit and below are five of the most useful.
Thanks to so many of you who sent me tips for my post on the Best Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2014.

The Risks and Rewards of Third Party Platforms

In his 2015 predictions John Herman of the Awl writes, “Big savvy internet publishers will spend a lot of money posting things directly to social networks that they do not own or control.” Woven throughout his post is a question about the risks and rewards of third party sites, where we are putting more and more of our content. Responding to Herman’s piece, Josh Benton asks “Is publishers’ Facebook free ride coming to a end?” These questions are also addressed in the rebooted Cluetrain Manifesto published this week (see the slide version or the list version). Really, don’t miss any of these posts.

The new project, Reported.ly, is publishing directly to Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, rather than driving people to a stand-alone home page. Andy Carvin’sdebrief on how Reported.ly covered the Charlie Hebdo attacks this week offers a glimpse at some of the strengths and challenges of this approach. The Media Briefing looks at both Reported.ly and BBC Pop-up and asks “Is publishing to third party platforms a viable strategy for media businesses?” NowThis and Fusion are both producing content specifically for platforms like Instagram and John Herman notes that BuzzFeed has “a unit that already publishes solely to YouTube and Facebook.” Wired has a good piece on Instagram and news too.

Of Profits and Podcasts

Just before the last episode of Serial aired in December, Ad Age looked a the financials behind Serial, providing a glimpse into how podcasters are thinking about ads and sponsorship. See also, this very good guide to the business of podcastingfrom the experts at Transom. (NPR also launched a new science podcast this week.) As podcasts experiment with different ad models, and struggle with unique challenges, there are lessons for other journalism organizations. To that end, the podcast ad network Mid-Roll has an interesting graphic (pitched for advertisers) about why podcasting ads are effective.

Whether you are thinking about developing a podcast for your newsroom (or already producing one), it is a good thing to see more businesses and individuals sponsoring and supporting great content creators. There is a lot to learn from how podcasters cultivate new audiences, create intimacy and engage their passionate fans. Matt Haughey has a really good look at the history of podcasting with a focus on its challenges yet to come (and a follow up). And the Harvard Business Review asks “Should Your Company Start a Podcast?” (Hint: look before you leap)

One final note: The show of solidarity that has followed the attacks on Charlie Hebdo this week has been encouraging, but there’s much more work to do. Around the globe journalists, writers, artists and citizen reporters are threatened and attacked daily. Take a minute this weekend and support groups like the Committee to Protect JournalistsCartoonists Rights Network International, Rory Peck TrustReporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, PENInternational News Safety Institute, Reporters Without Borders and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.