Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Why Graydon Carter thinks print is dying

March 30, 2010

Just read an interesting opinion piece by Graydon Carter titled “Print is dying… really?” What makes it interesting most of all isn’t so much Carter’s analysis – it’s more or less the same “TV didn’t kill radio” analogy paired with “just create great magazines” that we’ve heard many times before – but that he seems to be proving the wrong point.

The piece begins by separating “reading” from “search-and-find” – not a bad thing to do – and goes on to defend people’s continuing desire to read in-depth, well-researched, well-editing stories. But where it fails is in defining what it is, exactly, that makes print magazines the best format to deliver those stories. In fact, Carter even goes so far as to point out (contrary to common wisdom) that long-form journalism is popular on vanityfair.com. And his conclusion?

If print journalism’s business model is changing, our only move as editors is to double down on delivering what our readers have always wanted from us: compelling stories and iconic photographs. And it won’t matter if they’re read on a laptop, a cell phone, or on paper.

So, print isn’t dying… except that lots of people will read magazines on formats other than paper.

Don’t get me wrong – if print magazines are dying at all, I expect them to die a very slow death, and as we in the industry know, it’s more likely to be precipitated by declining advertising revenue than by drops in readership (on average, at least). But if we want print to survive, we need better arguments than this.

So let’s discuss. What really makes magazines unique?

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How to make readers pay

January 20, 2010

From a Guardian article on what Apple can do for journalism:

Online, readers don’t want to mess around too much with their credit card … Payment has to be simple and elegant. Click and run, and don’t think about it. Apple can offer that: there are more than 100 million iTunes accounts with credit cards already.

6 things every journalist should know about SEO

November 23, 2009

Today we’ve got a guest post from Rob Maurin of Toronto SEO Workshop. Enjoy!

Search engine optimization (SEO) sounds about as sexy as pocket protectors and Pentium chips. That’s unfortunate, because good SEO can be a game changer, for independent bloggers as well as newsroom editors, freelance writers and anyone who handles the words that end up on the screen.

SEO is the craft of playing Google’s game – writing your web copy in such a way that Google will like your story better, and place it higher on a search result page, than that of your competition.

Old-school editors and writers can get a little defensive about SEO. They feel it infringes on their own wordsmithery, or it strikes them as marketing or tech (i.e., “not my job”). But while they’re arguing, someone else’s web page is getting pageviews (and, yes, ad impressions), and that person is securing a career in the new media landscape.

The best news in all of this is that the fundamentals of SEO – and particularly the elements that lie within the control of an online editor or writer – can be easily taught, and using them doesn’t mean a compromise of your editing or writing. Here are 6 practical SEO lessons for writers and editors.

1. Keywords over cleverness
Nine times out of 10, writers and editors would rather be clever and creative than clear. Unfortunately, Google (though a brilliant piece of machinery) isn’t all that good at wordplay. Even common headlines that work well on magazine covers, like “10 ways to blast belly fat,” are lousy SEO headlines, because nobody goes to Google on the first day of their weight-loss resolution and punches the words “blast belly fat” into the search bar. Quite obviously, most people use keywords (i.e., search terms) like “weight loss tips,” “diet plans” or “lose weight.”

Your best ally in figuring out what terms to use in your writing is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. For a screencast demo on how to use the Keyword tool, check out TorontoSEOworkshop.com, or visit our YouTube channel at youtube.com/TorontoSEOworkshop.

The Keyword Tool was built to help advertisers create better ads, but it also helps editors and writers discover what words real people around the world use when searching for certain kinds of stories online.

A quick look on the keyword tool shows that your pool of potential monthly readers is 5 million if you use the words “lose weight.” You can also see that it you choose “weight loss” instead, your pool grows to 16 million, and “diet” puts you in the running for 37 million searches. All else being equal, I’d rather get a slice of the “diet” group than the “lose weight” group, so I can now write my headlines and web copy accordingly.

You can use these heavy-hitting keywords in conjunction with your clever titles too. Just change “10 ways to blast belly fat” to “Diet Tips: 10 ways to blast belly fat” or something like that.

2. Know where to use keywords
It’s self-evident, but the best places to use keywords are in all the traditional display copy spots: headlines, subheads, captions – any place where you would normally have your print typeface differ from your body copy typeface. In our weight-loss example, weave the word “diet” into as many as those spots as you can, without it becoming obnoxious to your human reader. You’ll be giving Google clear signals that your story is a good one to serve when those 37 million people a month search for something with the word “diet.”

3. Links matter
Google cares a lot about the number of links around the web that point back to your website. (In SEO terms, those are called “inbound links.”) All else being equal, Google will give preference to a site with lots of inbound links over one with fewer links, with the pretty convincing rationale that lots of links means lots of people are recommending the story or the site. This is as good a reason as any to get on social media like Facebook and Twitter: when you spread your story, you’re doing more than encouraging readers to click today. You’re planting the seeds for inbound links that will boost your Google rankings.

4. Good stories get links
The same things that made stories great a decade or two ago are the  things that make people want to link to you now. Be interesting. Be scandalous. Be creative or funny. Be an expert, a news-breaker, an insider, a pest… All the same traits that have defined great writers and editors will make for the best stories, and the best stories get more links and better Google ranking. In this way, Google is very fair.

5. Good SEO is good for people
In a print world, art directors and editors work hard on packages that hang together as a whole, so even a story with an unclear headline will make sense to the reader who can pick up on visual clues like strategically positioned images. But when that story goes up online, the cleverness usually becomes a liability. Stripped of context, it’s just not as clear as it could be.  On top of that, the rumours are true: readers online don’t browse around the same way they do in print. It’s a results-oriented medium, and directness is a virtue.

These points go hand in hand with SEO: by making your display copy clear and direct, you overcome problems with clarity, you give the readers direct information to pull them into the story, and you play nice with Google. Win-win-win.

6. Throw SEO away in favour of the human user
This much has always been true in media and it continues to be true now: you can’t sell out your readers. Don’t cheat them for an advertising buck, and don’t cheat them for an extra bit of SEO traffic. For success in the long run, you need to make sure your user experience is a good one. Squeeze as much good SEO in as you can, but if SEO is truly at irreconcilable odds with the user experience, ditch the SEO.

Rob Maurin spent 15 years in magazine editorial before making the switch to online content and strategy. He’s currently running the Toronto SEO Workshop, and will be offering an “SEO for Writers and Editors” training session in December and January. Contact him at info@TorontoSEOworkshop.com.

The future of journalism

October 28, 2009

Thanks to Lindsay Borthwick for passing on a link to a recent article by Tim Currie on j-source.ca on the future of journalism – it’s focused on news, but applies to all of us working on the web. The key point seems to be that success in the future will have everything to do with personalization – unique and niche journalism that interacts with its audience. Pre-Internet, it made perfect sense for every city to have a newspaper publishing the same stories with some local flavour. Now, in many cases, the reasons for multiple reporters covering the same story are more ideological than logistical.

Currie mentions The Tyee as a great example of a successful publication (it’s online-only) in the new world, and I have to agree, especially in the wake of their multiple (and well deserved) wins at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards Monday night. If you’ve never been to their site (as a B.C. expat, I consider it an essential in my RSS reader), do yourself a favour and spend some time there.

How to make money online

July 12, 2009

The debate is still on (and for good reason) about how the media can make money with their online properties. Readership is certainly there, but display advertising isn’t bringing in enough revenue and most readers are unwilling to pay to read articles online. The New York Times is said to be about to charge a monthly fee of $5 for access, but whether the strategy will work is questionable. (They might suck me in, though – I’ve become extremely addicted to their excellent health section.)

The Guardian recently spoke with Chris Anderson of Wired on his thoughts on monetizing media websites. His ideal model, they write, is that we shouldn’t charge for everything, but for those things that people are really willing to pay for: “It’s not about whether to charge but choosing carefully which specialised content people will pay for and developing additional premium services.” Golf Digest, for example, is considering starting a branded club that will charge for membership in exchange for services, discounts or other premiums.

The million-dollar question, of course, is what will people pay for? Figure that out, price the model well, and you may just bring in profit from your brand in excess of advertising, using the “free” content on the website as a lure.

What SEO means for you and your audience

December 10, 2008

There’s a very good article in the current issue of the British Journalism Review called “How SEO is changing journalism” (thanks to @doshdosh on Twitter via @wingszetang). In it, Shane Richmond, communities editor at Telegraph.co.uk, explains what SEO really is (and isn’t – i.e., some sort of voodoo marketing deception) and what it means for journalism online. Some key points:

On writing for computers vs. writing for people:

We are writing to be read and these days that increasingly means ensuring that our stories are found by search engines. Readership patterns are changing. Online news may seem similar to its offline equivalent – it is after all just words, pictures and moving images – but it is fundamentally different.

On where your online audience comes from:

Now, audiences can form at article level, driven by news aggregators such as Techmeme, social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, and news sites, such as Digg, that are “edited” by their users. There are still audiences, and large ones, that are loyal to a single title, but every publisher is seeing more and more people arrive at their websites via search engines, and the potential to use this trend to increase audiences is huge. Ideally, many of these surfers will see that your site comes high in the search results time and again and will become regular readers.

On web-friendly heds:

Unfortunately though, and there’s no gentle way to put this, the witty, punning headline is finished when it comes to the internet. The greatest headlines of the web era will be the most functional ones and they’re unlikely to be remembered by anybody at all even a month after publication, let alone years later.

It’s always a good time to boost your skill set

November 28, 2008

It’s shameless plug time: January is approaching (no, really), and with it another term of courses in the Magazine Publishing program at Ryerson University. My class (Creating Website Editorial) is offered in January and February (it’s just seven weeks long, not a big commitment but packed with useful information), and of course I’d love for you to take it, but there are lots of other excellent classes starting in January:

The Business of Magazine Publishing with D.B. Scott
Introduction to Magazine Design with Jayne Finn
Magazine Writing with Margaret Webb
Advanced Magazine Writing with David Hayes
Magazine Copy Editing with Bernadette Kuncevicius
Editing Service Journalism with Doug O’Neill

Just remember, if you’re thinking of taking a class, the earlier you sign up, the better – sometimes classes get cancelled because of low enrollment, and no one knows you plan to take it unless you actually register.

Shameless plug over: we’ll return to our regular programming now.

Link journalism and the Washington Post

September 29, 2008

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 is evangelistic about what he terms “link journalism“: selecting and sharing links to the best content around the web (either as an extension of your content or as a goal in and of itself) rather than being a pure content producer. Today he reviews the new Washington Post Political Browser, where staff writers and editors share links to the stories they’re reading around the web.

Eric [Pianin, politics editor for washingtonpost.com] acknowledged that washingtonpost.com is “late to the party,” but in fact the Political Browser puts the Post way out ahead of many other news sites — while many have begun to recognize the value of aggregation and links, most have been slow to act.

As Eric points out, it’s “not just aggregation.” (Heck, any algorithm can do aggregation — that’s increasingly a commodity.) What Political Browser has set out to do, according to Eric, is put The Washington Post “stamp of approval” on the choice of stories, and to provide “insight” into what’s important in the sphere of political news on the web.

Also looking beyond commodity aggregation, The Post believes, with good reason, that a lot people who are interested in political news and in the Post’s political reporting would find it interesting to get “inside the heads” of Post journalists, to see what they are reading and what is informing their reporting.

This is a great example of how a traditional media brand can leverage its reputation and trust factor to succeed on the web. I agree with Karp in that it’s ludicrous to pretend that competitors aren’t a mouse click or Google search away.

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Now here’s a good use for a magazine website

September 11, 2008

Thanks to Corinna vanGerwen and Ivor Tossell for passing on this new feature on Wired: they’re blogging, from start to finish, the creation of a feature story on Charlie Kaufman, which will run in their November issue. 

Obviously anyone interested in journalism will be interested in this blog. But Tossell posed the question (on Twitter): would this kind of thing appeal to non-journalists, i.e. the general public?

Specifically? I don’t know. But in general? Yes, I personally think that any devoted magazine reader would be interested in a behind-the-scenes look at their favourite magazines. And I think this is a great use of a magazine’s blog – it’s a way to add personality to your brand and to develop community, making readers feel “in the know”. Blueprint used to do a great job of this before Martha killed it.

What do you think? Would you read this kind of content, and do you think your users would?