It’s no secret that the media industry has been massively disrupted by the Internet and mobile communications technology. Newspapers no longer have monopolies on the market for local advertising. And news breaks in real-time across social networks like Twitter, splashing on the the 24 hour news networks minutes later.
The media market in Washington, D.C. has been similarly affected by technological change, particularly as new, nimble online players have moved into the nation’s capitol. Last night, I visited FedNet’s officers in D.C. for the Online News Association‘s February meetup. The night featured a panel moderated by Keith Carney, President of FedNet and featured Mike Mills (@Mike_Mills), Editorial Director of the Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call Group; Howard Kamen (@hkamen) Partnership Editor for USA Today, and Karl Eisenhower, Editor, New Media Strategy for NationalJournal.com. Fednet will be posting video soon; in the meantime, the livestream I recorded is below:
The panel primarily focused on the business of online news as practiced by these different organizations. Congressional Quarterly (CQ) and Roll Call have a combination of a subscription model focused on high-value, scarce information gleaned from dedicated reporting on the minutiae of legislation, lobbying and political news. The combination of access, high value eyeballs and profit didn’t escape another provider of high value information: As Mills observed, the Economist Group owns both Roll Call and CQ now. The same media group also runs Congress.org, which Mills says is for “citizens to learn about Congress engage in grassroots activity.” He’s not worried about losing content to search engines, either, given a closed subscription model. “We’re not on the Internet, we’re on the intranet,” said Mills.
USA Today, by contrast, is a national newspaper with a generalist focus. According to Kamen, partnerships with other organization are providing USAToday.com with data for interactive graphics. Those interactive features in turn provide sustained traffic over time to support an advertising revenue model. When asked by Carney if a paywall might show up at USA Today to match the reported metered model at the New York Times, Kamen responded that “I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.” USA Today has moved into mobile news, recording over 2.5 million downloads of its free iPhone app. “We made it free to get eyeballs first,” said Kamen.
Even though the paper’s leadership has focused on retaining its position as the most widely circulated paper in the US, Kamen’s comments made it clear that USAToday.com is an important part of its future. “I truly think we do have an ‘online first’ model now,” said Kamen, although there coordinating print and online remains a “work in progress.”
The bridge between writers and coders has been bridged at National Journal, where Eisenhower said every newsroom has dedicated IT resources. The need to connect developers with reporters is felt across town, too: “The real merger that needs to happen is between editorial and IT,” said Mills.
National Journal is also shifting with the times, looking carefully at where and when readers are consuming their content. “Knowing our audience means knowing their work habits,” said -Eisenhower. “Mobile is very important.” Like other glossy weekly magazines, National Journal is experimenting with new advertising models as print circulation wanes.
Each publication also fits into a hypercompetitive emerging media landscape in DC. Whether it’s Politico, the DailyCaller.com, the Fiscal Times or Bloomberg’s coming “BGov” http://bit.ly/cTD1m8, there’s a host of new players that are competing for eyeballs and ad dollars with the Washington Post, Washington Times, the Hill, the Washington City Paper, the Metro Weekly. And that doesn’t even factor in local blogs like the DCist, KStreetKate and We Love DC, or the influence of NPR/WAMU and local TV stations.
What will 2010 bring? Innovation and disruption, without question. Certain takeaways from last night, however, should be of use to every media organization, even those without immense national circulations or access to information of interest to readers with attractive demographics for advertisers.
First, go where the readers are. Mills observed that failures in business models were often rooted in not following the audience to where they’re getting information.
Second, go mobile. Create applications, stripped down websites and email alerts that allow the audience to get news on the go.
Third, use data to create evergreen content. Organizations like Gallup or even governments themselves are providing data feeds or sets that can be used for interactive graphics.
Finally, get social. Facebook recently passed Yahoo as the second-most visited site in the world. Many news organizations are finding that social networks are a significant source of traffic, as the audience shares what it’s reading.
All in all, a great night. I enjoyed talking with the always-entertaining Tiffany Shackleford about celebrity culture online and Lee from NPR’s “Tell Me More” about digital distribution and syndication. Even as old models crumble, there’s no shortage of innovation in how we share the news in 2010.