Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Sep 25

Yes, Investigative Journalism CAN Pay. And Pay Well.

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, New Media Strategery, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, This week in paid content, Wrongheaded solutions.
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Mediapart in France is profitable because it gives readers what they are willing to pay for.

Imagine that.

mediapart.fr front page

The Mediapart organization makes its living by doing hard-hitting investigative journalism that its audience is willing to support. They also make a point of including lots of video on their pages.

Quick hit here for my students, who are increasingly upset about their job prospects after graduation.

I shared an article from Neiman about the upheaval in the newspaper business in France. Apparently, the same problems that plague the French economy at large are at work, writ small & exceedingly acerbic, at the major newspapers. They are tech-phobic, rely on business models that no longer fully function, and react angrily to anyone threatening the promise of a cushy work situation with guaranteed employment and 1/4 of the year spent on vacation.

Can’t imagine why that can’t cut it in a world increasingly dominated by the internet work ethic of, “If you eat lunch … you ARE lunch.” Somehow, I don’t think this will fit in with a languid afternoon at a sidewalk cafe with a nice burgundy and a baguette slathered with brie. With accordion music wafting in the background.

But about 2/3 of the way down the article, there appeared these grafs, which I am going to excerpt here, although I do urge you to go to the Neiman site & give them some traffic-love, ’cause @petergumbel did a damn good job with this write-up:

Edwy Plenel, for one, is incensed by the conflicts of interest inherent in the French press. But then that’s not entirely surprising, since outrage is Plenel’s mojo.

He has come a long way since his revolutionary youth, which he wrote about in a 2001 memoir. He made his mark as an investigative journalist at Le Monde; one of his most celebrated scoops was uncovering the role of French intelligence in the 1985 sinking in New Zealand of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior. He made the Elysée so nervous that it illegally bugged his phone during the presidency of François Mitterrand. He spent a total of 25 years at Le Monde, including a stint as editor in chief, but he left in 2005 during one of its sporadic crises, after attacks on his management style.

He launched Mediapart as a subscription site in December 2007. Three years later it was at break-even. Today, it’s racing toward 100,000 subscribers, each paying the equivalent of about $12 per month. This year he expects the site to make about $2 million net profit on just over $10 million in revenue. It has a staff of 50, 33 of whom are journalists. It now outsells Libération, which has almost six times as many staff members. [Emphasis mine - dlf]

The secret: a laser focus on exclusive news, especially revelations of high-level political and financial skullduggery. Mediapart’s subscriptions soared in 2010, the year it broke the story about a convoluted political and financial scandal involving France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt. They leaped again in 2013, after it revealed that the then-budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, whose job included fighting tax evasion, himself had an undeclared Swiss bank account and had transferred funds to Singapore. After denying the allegations for months, Cahuzac eventually resigned, acknowledging that he had lied to parliament and to President François Hollande.

Work the numbers, folks. $10 mill in revenue-$2M profil = $8M in expenses. $8M/50 employees = $160K/yr per employee. Figure about 40% of that per-employee allocation is insurance, pension, and building/maintaining the site & gathering news costs, and you still get a salary of $64K/yr on average. For a journalist, that ain’t bad. Plus you’ve got a warchest of $2M that you can throw at a big story, should one come up, and to use to build out the site & extend its reach.

So. There’s a lot going on here. I’ve written in the past about how I disagree with the authors of The Death and Life of American Journalism, who called for exactly the kinds of government subsidies for newspapers that are allowing them to continue to try to deny reality, and live in a fantasy-bubble. At the time, I was reacting to what I’ve seen in Latin America, Georgia, Kazakhstan and other places where allowing the government to get its hands on the revenue stream is akin to letting criminals loop a choke-chain around your throat. They can lead you around by it, and if you start getting out of line, all they need to do is give it a quick, sharp yank, and you fall back in line, suitably docile.

I’ve seen that happen. First-hand. In Venezuela, when I was a very young editor.

Government subsidies are kinda like this. Nothing really sticks until you try to do something that the person holding the leash doesn’t like.

The solution that Mediapart has come up with here may not last. It may not work everywhere. But it’s something that makes a lot more sense to me than journalism that exists as a kind of state-supported performance art piece. Because I’ve seen that as well: journalists who are completely disconnected from the concerns of their audience, sporting paternalistic, condescending attitudes, producing self-indulgent “investigations” that nobody really reads, and that don’t really threaten the people who give them checks each month.

So when I see that Mediapart is actually making a pretty nice profit, running with a lean staff, and dedicating itself to serving the interests of its audience, it pretty much makes my day, particularly in light of the grim news out of the LA Register, NBC news, and pretty much every other traditional media outlet recently.

Look, I am not hooting and hanging on the rim here, delighting in the travails of people still stuck in jobs at tottering media empires, hanging on for dear life through ownership changes, strategy changes, and promises that melt away like morning dew.

Long-term, market forces are going to prevail. If journalists produce a product that people want, and give them a means by which to support/purchase/share it, then that audience will fight to ensure that this important part of their lives is still there. The very first case study I ever did was centered around that fact. It makes me sad to see so many journalists, who base their entire journalistic ethos on pushing people and institutions to change, to adapt to the times, to leave behind (even if painful) the habits & traditions of the past … ignoring their own best advice.

Liberation may not be a cafe. But it may also not be an outlet for journalism much longer either.

 

 

 

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Dec 16

The Music Video Is The Advertisement: Lady GaGa Goes Post-McCluhan On Us All

Posted: under Multimedia, New Marketing, new media, Online Video, Video, Webconomics.
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Her “Bad Romance” music video features prominent product placement for stuff she designs & sells – and has garnered 38 million views.

The song itself is kinda beside the point – it’s bubblegum synth-disco-pop, about as bland and processed as the stuff the taxi drivers in Moscow used to subject me to on the way back & forth from my gig there. Which may be why it’s getting so many views – this is the kind of stuff that works internationally, since the thumping beat and lyric structure make it sound pretty much interchangeable with everything else on the radio.

Can't wait until she starts marketing the exploding bustier shown here; Madonna's Wannabees all wore their undies over their shirts. Wonder if GaGaEttes are going to be lighting their smokes off their flaming boobs.

Can't wait until she starts marketing the exploding bustier shown here; Madonna's Wannabees all wore their undies over their shirts. Wonder if GaGaEttes are going to be lighting their smokes off their flaming boobs.

But the real action here is in the video to the song. Blew my mind. Didn’t think that people had budgets like this anymore. Costumes that would make Gaultier sick with envy — white latex with “Where the Wild Things Are” shiny plastic crowns, some kinda homage to LeeLoo’s orange strappy outfit in The Fifth Element and a Eastern European mobster/white sex-slave buyer with a steampunk-ish articulated brass chin. Looked to my eye like about a week in production, probably about $500K in total costs of models, locations, crews, lighting, post-production.

The plot seems to be that Lady GaGa wakes from her sleep the way normal people do – by sticking her hand out of a gleaming white Tylenol-shaped coffin – getting forced to drink high-end vodka and the gyrate for & be sold to a bunch of strange pervy dudes.I half expected to see Liam Neeson kicking someone’s ass in the backdrop and telling her, “Here’s the scary part. You’re going to be taken…”

Nobody does these kinds of elaborate music videos anymore, because there is no way to recoup that kinda cash from the moribund music industry.- at least, not until now.As Dan Neil points out in the LA Times

the “Bad Romance” video, which features placements for no less than 10 products: a black iPod; Philippe Starck Parrot wireless speakers; Nemiroff vodka; Gaga-designed Heartbeats earphones (via Dr. Dre); Carrera sunglasses; Nintendo Wii handsets; Hewlett-Packard Envy computers; a Burberry coat; those crazy, hobbling Alexander McQueen hyper-heels; and enough La Perla lingerie to choke an ox.

This isn’t a music video so much as the QVC Channel you can dance to.

I had thought that Madonna and Michael Jackson were about as sophisticated as you could get when it came to figuring out ways to build up a juicy public image, and then squeeze it until rivers of cash started running out. Not so. Lady GaGa has rightly recognized that selling CDs if for chumps; anyone can pirate them, and pretty much does.

No, you need to sell things that people can’t copy – or at least, if they do, it kinda defeats the purpose. So Lady GaGa’s come up with the list of high-end commercial goods to do “Hero Shots” of in the video and obviously done revenue deals with them.

As a business model, I have to say hats off to the Lady. She’s adapted to the draining of value from the content (i.e. nobody actually buys music anymore – at least, not like they used to), and migrated over to where the money still lies.

When advertising no longer works, when information is a commodity in which we all drown for free, then the only things that are left that have any value are physical objects that we can wear, eat, drive or plug in, as well as what cultural anthropologists call “fetish objects” that bestow special status because they signify that we hae enough disposable income so as to be able to waste a couple grand on some gaudy sunglasses.

I’m not sure if this is the way that all news & entertainment is going to have to go in the future. All of it sponsored, with big shout-outs to the guys footing the bills worked into the info-stream every 10 seconds or so.  I do know that if this works, we’re going to see a lot more of these “branded videos” online.

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Jul 16

Interview with Joel Kramer of MinnPost.com about Real-Time Ads

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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This is the bookend interview I did for the story on Real-Time Ads.

Joel Kramer explains how MinnPost.com is using Real-Time Ads to build up business with local advertisers by giving them a product that they can’t find anywhere else.

However, he goes on to explain that the media business has irrevocably changed, and that the “gravy train of advertising” will never again support newspapers. His solution to the revenue crisis facing news organizations can be heard starting at about 7:10 into the interview.

Download Interview with Joel Kramer editor of MinnPost about Real-Time Ads

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