Saturday, April 07, 2007

Crowd control

The Pacific Daily News stirred up a hornet's nest today, suggesting that employees of the public school system should be allowed to access the PDN's community online forum when at work, on work time, using work computers and work bandwidth. See the headline story, GPSS: 'Access denied'; School system bars workers from online news forum By David V. Crisostomo.

The PDN suggests this is a "freedom of speech" issue, or, perhaps, public school discrimination specifically aimed at the PDN.

What makes this story a story is that the PDN is usually leading the way to spot government waste, inefficiency and workplace mismanagement. The PDN omits to disclose what it's employee internet usage policy is. And the apparent hypocracy of the story is not lost on many of the commenters in the PDN StoryChat feature.

But it is not a simple matter of PDN hypocracy and complaining about being picked on, as most would believe. This is part of a much grander corporate designed business model.

This is about saving Gannett's bacon.

The following is from a blog By Marc Wilson:
Your online newspaper can earn more money than the local Yellow Pages and the largest radio station in your market. Your online newspaper might even become more profitable than the largest local TV station.

That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted for the Suburban Newspaper Association by Borrell Associates.

The biggest local Web site – typically run by the major daily newspaper – will generate more revenue than the largest-grossing broadcast radio station in the market.”

We knew, via multiple Belden research studies, that many online newspapers were attracting two to three times the cumulative market share of the largest local radio station.

Now, Borrell is telling us that savvy newspapers are turning that marketplace dominance into revenue and cash flow.

“In 36 markets we chose at random,” the Borrell study says, “we found 15 local sites surpassing the largest terrestrial radio stations in those markets in terms of gross revenue. With double-digit annual revenue growth over the next four years, it is conceivable that a large local Web site will gross more than the largest cluster of radio stations owned by a single company in its market by 2010…and perhaps more than the largest-grossing TV station.”

That’s big news for publishers looking for a business plan to replace revenue bleeding away from print products. That’s assuming the newspaper doesn’t cede the opportunity to a competitor – a local radio or TV station, or an online-only startup.

Regular readers of this column know that one of my most repeated themes is the need for the local newspaper to “own the Internet.” This is a franchise that can be developed with relatively little cost — and can be hugely valuable in the future.

But the Borrell report noted that newspapers aren’t guaranteed the spot as the No. 1 local Internet site. “Joining the pack last year … were the Johnny-come-latelies — the TV and radio stations that had written off the Internet as a fad just a few years ago, and a whole new crop of entrepreneurs attacking the market from the ground up with home-grown local sites.

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper group, earlier this month launched an innovation known as the “Information Center.”

Gannett CEO Craig Dubow defined the Information Center as “the newsroom of the future." He called it “a way to gather and disseminate news and information across all platforms, 24/7. The Information Center will let us gather the very local news and information that customers want, then distribute it when, where and how our customers seek it. It is the essence of our Vision and Mission and a key element of our Strategic Plan.”
Dubow, in a Nov. 2 memo to Gannett employees, said 11 pilot projects had tested the concept and created “stronger newspapers, more popular Web sites and more opportunities to attract the customers advertisers want.”

“Implementing the Center across Gannett quickly is essential,” Dubow added. “Our industry is changing in ways that create great opportunity for Gannett. Innovations such as the Information Center are one way we are meeting the challenge and implementing our strategic plan… Let me close by saying I truly believe the Information Center will transform our industry…”

His memo added: “Creating an Information Center means retooling the newsroom, expanding into multimedia, embracing community interaction, shifting resources and rethinking the way a community is covered.”

Gannett has clearly seen the need to fundamentally change the way it does business in order to “own the Internet.”

Gannett intends that this ownershp of the internet concept is to be accomplished by means of "crowdsourcing", according to Jeff Howe in his article, Gannett to Crowdsource News.
According to internal documents provided to Wired News and interviews with key executives, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, will begin crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions. Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened "information centers," and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like "data," "digital" and "community conversation."

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

"We've already had some really amazing results with the crowdsourcing element of this," said Jennifer Carroll, Gannett's VP for new media content. "Most of us got into this business because we were passionate about watchdog journalism and public service, and we've just watched those erode. We've learned that no one wants to read a 400-column-inch investigative feature online. But when you make them a part of the process they get incredibly engaged."

The most prominent example, Carroll said, occurred this summer with The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. In May, readers from the nearby community of Cape Coral began calling the paper, complaining about the high prices -- as much as $28,000 in some cases -- being charged to connect newly constructed homes to water and sewer lines.

Maness asked the News-Press to employ a new method of looking into the complaints. "Rather than start a long investigation and come out months later in the paper with our findings we asked our readers to help us find out why the cost was so exorbitant," said Kate Marymont, the News-Press' editor in chief.

The response overwhelmed the paper, which has a circulation of about 100,000. "We weren't prepared for the volume, and we had to throw a lot more firepower just to handle the phone calls and e-mails," Marymont said.

UPDATE April 9: The PDN editorial today, "OUR VIEW Censorship, GPSS wrong to ban its employees from access to PDN's StoryChat forum", confirms this PDN chatforum issue is as much about Gannett head office directive as "discriminatory" "censorship". The fingerprints are:

Timing: The editorial lauds the number of participants on the chat since "this version of the site was launched in September 2006." This coincides with the timing of the articles noted above.

Radio: The editorial specifically takes issue with the use of radio at GPSS, arguing GPSS should "turn off all the radios", which expands the brief from "discrimination" against other internet sites to attacking radio audiences. As the articles above point out, the goal of this new "crowdsourcing" is to become bigger than the local radio stations.

Guambat does not condone the apparent political-izing within GPSS nor the disproportionate use of work time and resources for labor organizing or other personal "business", but it does truly help to understand the broader scope of the debate if the true interests of both sides are clear to us, the humble observers.


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