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Back in October 2006, I posted Newspapers 2.o, listing ten “hopefully helpful clues” for papers needing to adapt to a world that would only get more and more of its news online. I ran the same list in August 2007, adding an eleventh suggestion. So here I’m visiting the original ten, with my own brief progress report on each, to the degree I’ve kept track. Feel free to add your own, or to subtract from mine.

1. Stop giving away the news and charging for the olds. Okay, give away the news, if you have to, on your website. There’s advertising money there. But please, open up the archives. Stop putting tomorrow’s fishwrap behind paywalls.

I haven’t noticed any major dailies in the U.S. that have given up on paywalls for archives. Love to hear otherwise, though.

I have noticed that there is more talk about charging for the news, though. Or at least news in depth. I have no problem with that, provided there’s a standard way of doing that, rather than as many different ways as there are papers.

2. Start featuring archived stuff on the paper’s website. Link back to as many of your archives as you can. Get writers in the habit of sourcing and linking to archival editorial.

I think there is more of this. How much more, I’m not sure. At the very least, there is a limit to the extent of possible linking to archives that are behind paywalls.

3. Link outside the paper. Encourage reporters and editors to write linky text. This will encourage reciprocity on the part of readers and writers who appreciate the social gesture that a link also performs.

Linky text is more common now, but most linking at most papers goes to their own stuff. All but one of the links in this New York Times piece, for example, go to other Times pages.

4. Start following, and linking to, local bloggers and even competing papers (such as the local arts weeklies). You’re not the only game in town anymore, and haven’t been for some time. Instead you’re the biggest fish in your pond’s ecosystem. Learn to get along and support each other, and everybody will benefit.

Haven’t seen it, though maybe I’ve missed it.

5. Start looking toward the best of those bloggers as potential stringers. Or at least as partners in shared job of informing the community about What’s Going On and What Matters Around Here.

Exhibit A through Whatever: Tony Pierce. The story starts here. You can look the rest up.

6. Start looking to citizen journalists (CJs) for coverage of hot breaking local news topics — such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and so on. There are plenty of people with digital cameras, camcorders, cell phones and other devices that can prove mighty handy for following stories up close and personally. Great example: what Sig Solares and his crew did during Katrina.

I know a lot more of this is going on, but don’t have time to research it. So tell us, if you know.

7. Stop calling everything “content”. It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online. It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call “editorial”. Your job is journalism, not container cargo.

I knew this was a lost cause in the first place. And I know it’s more lost than ever. I still hate the word and avoid it as much as I can.

8. Uncomplicate your webistes. I can’t find a single newspaper that doesn’t have a slow-loading, hard-to-navigate, crapped-up home page. These things are aversive, confusing and often useless beyond endurance. Simplify the damn things. Quit trying to “drive traffic” into a maze where every link leads to another route through of the same mess. You have readers trying to learn something, not cars looking for places to park. And please, get rid of those lame registration systems. Quit trying to wring dollars out of every click. I guarantee you’ll sell more advertising to more advertisers reaching more readers if you take down the barricades and (again) link outward more. And you’ll save all kinds of time and hassle.

A partially lost cause. The growth of mobile reading devices has raised the sanity level a bit, but on the whole the sins persist.

9. Get hip to the Live Web. That’s the one with verbs such as write, read, update, post, author, subscribe, syndicate, feed and link. This is the part of the Web that’s growing on top of the old Static Web of nouns such as site, address, location, traffic, architecure and construction.

Two words: Twitter and Facebook. Alas, both are private systems, and one is a silo.

10. Publish Rivers of News for readers who use Blackberries or Treos or Nokia 770s, or other handheld Web browsers. Your current home page, and all your editorial pages, are torture to read with those things. See the example Dave Winer provides with a from the NY Times.

This is a big disappointment to me, personally (that last link rocks on phone browsers); but I see Dave is still doing great work in this territory and I’m eager to see what River2 will do.

Meanwhile, The Onion has some required viewing.

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“Saving newspapers” is beginning to look like saving caterpillars. Or worse, like caterpillars saving themselves. That’s was the message I got from Rick Edmonds’ API Report to Exec Summit: Paid Content Is the Future for News Web Sites, in Poynter, back in early June. In The Nichepaper Manifesto Umair Haque points toward a possible future butterfly stage for newspapers. Sez Umair,  “Nichepapers aren’t a new product, service, or business model. They are a new institution.”

He gives examples: Talking Points Memo. Huffington Post. Perez Hilton. Business Insider. He’s careful to say that these may not be the first or the best but are “avenues that radical innovators are already exploring to reconceive news for the 21st century.”

These, however, are limited as news sites, and not the best models of future nichepapers. Yes, they’re interesting and in some cases valuable sources of information; but they all also have axes to grind. In this sense they’re more like the old model (papers always had axes too) than the new one(s).

To help think about where news is going, let’s talk about one cause of serious news: wildfires. In Southern California we have lots of wildfires. They flare up quickly, then threaten to wipe out dozens, hundreds or thousands of homes, and too often do exactly that. Look up San Diego Fire, Day Fire, Gap Fire, Tea Fire, Jesusita Fire. The results paint a mosaic, or perhaps even a pointillist, picture of news sourced, reported, and re-reported by many different people, organizations and means. These are each portraits of an emerging ecosystem within  which newspapers must adapt of die.

Umair says, “In the 21st century, it’s time, again for newspapers to learn how to profit with stakeholders — instead of extracting profits from them. The 21st century’s great challenge isn’t selling the same old “product” better: it’s learning to make radically better stuff in the first place.”

Exactly. And that “making” will be as radically different as crawling and flying.

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I’ve been a Wall Street Journal subscriber since the 1970s. I still am. The paper shows up at my doorstep every day.

I’ve also been a subscriber to the Journal online. It costs extra. I’ve gladly paid it, even though I think the paper makes a mistake by locking its archives behind a paywall. (Sell the news, give away the olds, I say.)

I’d still be glad to pay it, if the Journal made it easy. But they don’t. No paper does, far as I know. In fact very few media make it easy at all to give them money for their online goods.

As it happens, my Journal online subscription just ran out. To fix matters, the paper’s site prompted me not to renew, but to update my credit card. So I went through the very complicated experience of updating that data, with the form losing most of the data each time I had to fill in a blank missed on the last try. (Why separate house number from street name?) In the midst it wouldn’t take my known password, and I had to have them do the email thing, through which I got to create a new password after clicking on a link in an email sent to me by the WSJ “system.” Even after doing that, and getting the new credit card info in there, and everything seemed to be fine (no more mistakes noticed on the form)… I can’t get in.

Did the payment go through? I have no idea. The credit card, from Chase, also has an impossible website. I don’t even want to go there.

In any case, I can no longer get in. At the top of the login page, it says “Welcome, Doc Searls.” Below that it tells me to log out if I am not myself. And below that it says

Your Current Subscription(s)

I can still access my Personal Information, which includes rude questions about my income, the number of people in my organization and how many stock transactions my household made in the past 12 months. Earth to Journal: Readers hate filling out shit like that. Why put readers over a grill like that? Does it really help sales? Please.

Okay, between the last paragraph and this one I somehow got far enough into the site to actually read some stuff. Specifically, this Peggy Noonan piece, and this PJ O’Rourke piece. In the midst of hunting those down, search results that failed said this:

No Information Available

Your subscription does not include access to this service.

If you have any questions please call Customer Service at 800-369-2834 (or 609-514-0870) or contact us by e-mail at  onlinejournal at Representatives are available Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. & Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (ET). Subscribers outside the United States, click here.

Good gawd.

Why put readers through #$%^& ordeals like these? Not to mention a website that’s already cluttered beyond endurance.

Because it’s always been done this way, they say. “Always” meaning “since 1995.”

Actually, it’s gotten worse in recent years, all the better to drag eyeballs across advertising, and to maximize the time readers spend on the site.

Hell, I’ve been on the WSJ site for the last hour, hating every second of it.

We can do better than this. I say we, because I have no faith at all that the Journal, or any of the papers, will ever fix problems that have been obvious for the duration. The readers are going to have to tell them what to do. And I mean all of them at once. We need one basic way to interact with media and their systems for accepting payments. Not as many different ways as there are media, all of them bad.

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Yesterday I reported hearing that the New York Times was thinking about putting its editorial behind a paywall again. Today James Warren gives substance to the rumors:

Here’s a story the newspaper industry’s upper echelon apparently kept from its anxious newsrooms: A discreet Thursday meeting in Chicago about their future.

“Models to Monetize Content” is the subject of a gathering at a hotel which is actually located in drab and sterile suburban Rosemont, Illinois; slabs of concrete, exhibition halls and mostly chain restaurants, whose prime reason for being is O’Hare International Airport. It’s perfect for quickie, in-and-out conclaves.

There’s no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, “will facilitate the meeting.”

I can see the headline already:  Newspaper Bigs Form Trust To Set Content Prices.

Just kidding.

We do need to be serious here. The Situation is dire. Humpty Dumpty is reaching terminal velocity.

But don’t bother wishing the king’s horses and men luck with the fix. They can’t do it. No newspaper trade group, no collection of top newspaper executives, will come up with a creative solution to problems that have already earned Top Rank status in the innovators dilemma casebook. The best these execs can do is make Humpty’s fall a drop into cyberspace. They have to make Humpty Net-native. They can’t do that just with better-and-better websites, or with “monetization” schemes such as “micropayments” or other scarcity plays with a net-ish gloss.

As disruptive technologies go, it’s hard to beat the Interent. The Net didn’t just push  Humpty off the wall. It blew up that wall and the whole world on which both sat. In that wall’s place is a wide-open space where abundance is not only the prevailing condition, but a severly reproductive one that’s especially suited to interesting “content.” As Kevin Kelly aptly puts it, The internet is a copy machine. One measure of content’s worth is how much it gets copied and quoted. How the hell do you monetize that?

In a New Yorker piece this week, Bill Keller, the Times‘ Executive Editor, said, “There’s a crying demand for what we do and, sadly, a diminishing supply of it. How we get the demand to pay for the supply is the existential question of newspapers in general and the Times in particular.” He’s right in all but one respect: that first person plural we. Unless he’s referring to a population of sufficient generality to include readers. Or, more importantly, hackers. Geeks bearing gifts.

As it happens, we (the geeks) have one. It’s called EmanciPay. It hands the pricing gun over to the customers (readers in this case) and then makes it easy for them to pay as much as they like, however they like, on their terms. Or at least to start with that full set of options. Whatever readers decide to pay, the sum of it won’t be $0, which is what readers are paying now. (Online, at least, in nearly all cases.)


Peter Kafka reports this from the D7 conference today (over a Wall Street Journal AllThingsDigital blog):

Time for some polls! No surprise: People like to read newspapers online. Also no surprise: But people don’t pay for it. Somewhat of a surprise: People say that they are willing to pay for some kind of news.

My boldface.

I conduct similar audience polls often, though my subject is usually public radio. “How many people here listen to public radio?” Nearly all hands go up. “How many of you pay for it?” About 10% stay up. “How many would pay for it if it were real easy?” More hands go up. “How many would pay if stations would stopped begging for money with fund drives?”  Many more hands go up, enthusiastically.

So the market is there. The question is how to tap it.

At ProjectVRM we propose tapping it from the customers’ side: for newspapers, from the readers side. We also propose doing it one way for all readers and all newspapers, rather than X different ways for X different papers, each designed by each paper for their own readers. In that direction lies a field of silos, all with their own scarcities, their own frictions, their own lock-ins. We need one way to do this for the same reason we need one way to do email.

Remember back when AOL, Prodigy, Lotus Notes, MCIMail and the rest all had their own ways of making you correspond? That’s what we’ll get if we leave content monetization up to the papers alone. They’ll all have their own ways of locking you in, just like retailers all have their own “loyalty” programs, each with their own cards, their own barcodes for you, their own reward systems, their own special ways of inconveniencing you for their own exclusive benefit.

EmanciPay will be simple and straightforward. It will make it easy for you to pay what you want (which may be what the papers what you to pay … or more … or less), and to do it on your terms and not just theirs. This doesn’t mean that the papers can’t have terms of their own. Maybe they have a suggested price, or a minimum they’re willing to accept. Whatever they come up with, however, will be informed by interaction out in the open marketplace, rather than their own private ones, where they make all the rules.

Think of EmanciPay as a way to unburden sellers of the need to keep trying to control markets that are beyond their control anyway. Think of it as a way that “free market”  can mean more than “your choice of captor.” Think of it as a way that “customer relationships” can be worthy of the label because both sides are carrying their ends of the relationship burden — rather than the sellers’ side carrying the whole thing (as CRM systems do today).

EmanciPay is an open source project. When it rolls out, it will be free and open to anybody.

Want to help? Let me know. (firstname at lastname dot com) I’m serious.

The only problem is that development work on EmanciPay is just getting started. (I haven’t wanted to publicize it, because I wanted it to be ready to go — or at least to vet — first.)  But that’s also an opportunity.

What matters for the papers is that there’s at least one answer to their challenge out there. And it’s free for the making.

Cross-posted here.

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